Report: 21 issues found after May firestorm

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously directed staff to convene a workshop of fire, government and military officials to further improve coordination and address 21 recommendations in a report on last month's wildfires.

Various agencies worked together much more effectively during the outbreak that began May 13 compared to previous firestorms in 2003 and 2007, but "we can't rest on our laurels," Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

"This is an opportunity as a region to sit down and talk about next steps," Jacob said. "How can we be better, how can we be the best prepared that we can be, and what we can afford to be, and come back with some recommendations on how we can improve the region's fire protection system."

More than a dozen fires broke out that day and the following day, burning down 65 structures, including 46 single-family homes, according to county statistics. Several apartments and commercial structures were also destroyed.

Flames scorching tens of thousands of acres of brush forced the evacuation of the Cal State San Marcos campus and temporarily closed numerous schools and businesses.

Damage to private property was estimated at $29.8 million. Officials figured it cost $27.9 million to fight the blazes.

Among the major needs addressed in the report were for public information campaigns to get residents to better prepare for wildfires and follow evacuation orders; for emergency information to be delivered in languages other than English; for forward-looking infrared imaging devices to help firefighters locate hot spots in smoky conditions; for pre-positioning firefighting aircraft at the onset of dangerous fire weather; and for ways that officials can verify information quickly so it can be given to the public.

County officials also discussed a possible need for a third firefighting helicopter. Jacob said it could take eight to 10 months to acquire another chopper.

Team 10, along with some viewers, had questions about a specific issue addressed in the report.

The county spent more than a $500,000 to keep the public updated through its emergency services app. However, the app provided dated information during the initial hours of the emergency. As fire burned in Rancho Bernardo, the app sent a message to its subscribers reading, "fire in your pants."

The app also did not provide information on fire perimeters.

"I was disappointed because I'm tuned into this and I'm not getting the information that I knew was out there," County Supervisor Ron Roberts said when Team 10 brought the issue to his attention.

"It's billed as an emergency app and it's supposed to have news on it," San Marcos homeowner Peter Harmata said. "If it's not going to be accurate news then don't do it."

The county's report said the county website and app performed well during the fires.

"We really hope to work with various fire agencies to get fire perimeter data that we can display on our website," San Diego County Office of Emergency Services Director Holly Crawford said. "That's one of the things in the next fire storm we hope we can work to get that data quicker."

"No question. That's an area that needs to be improved on," County Supervisor Diane Jacob said.

Staffers were directed to convene the workshop within 45 days and come back to the board in three months with ideas on how to standardize regulations during red flag warnings and other dangerous fire weather.

To read the full report, click here.

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