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Wanted: Del Mar Treeminators
June 2008 | by Bettina Experton


With the first heat wave of the season on a calm and mildly windy Sunday afternoon on April 27, 100 acres in Los Penasquitos Canyon burst into flames in only two hours. The brush fire led to the evacuation of two hundred and fifty homes and took 180 firefighters, two helicopters and two CalFire tanker planes to put out the fire. The fire was out of our sight but not out of touch – only three miles away from Del Mar in another canyon overgrown with dry brush.

It has now been six months since the October Witch Creek fire and with it the Del Mar big “Test of Fire” and call for action (www.delmarsandpiper.org). Indeed, the Del Mar City Council took action: Implementing fire-hazard home inspections and zoning changes to facilitate hazardous-tree removal, working on building-code changes, reaching out for brush clearing in Crest Canyon , and issuing a call for all Del Martians to clean up their yards. Many of us responded to the call and also urged for further regional action in reaching out to the City of San Diego (for Crest Canyon ) and to the whole region (regarding air firefighting).

On the eve of what has been predicted to be an even drier summer and riskier fire season, Crest Canyon has still been left untouched and the overgrown dense brush is now ready to ignite. Furthermore, a widespread fire in the Del Mar hills may quickly overwhelm our limited local firefighting resources, which makes effective regional fire defense a must.

On November 5 last year, when the City Council launched its Fire Prevention Program, we suggested to the City of Del Mar to support building up the San Diego regional air firefighting capacity using as a model the “Pompiers du Ciel” (the air firemen) firefighting air base of Marseille, France ( www.pilotesdufeu.com/pompiersduciel/). This dedicated airbase has 15 Bombardier “Super Scooper” airplanes, command and recognition aircraft and other air firefighting assets. The permanent airbase counts 88 pilots and copilots who are ready for action and who conduct preventive patrols in times of highest fire risk. Like San Diego County , the Marseille region has a dry Mediterranean climate prone to high winds and disastrous fires. They too have developed, but also have strongly enforced, rigid fire-fuel-reduction laws with much larger ground-based firefighting forces available. Based on strong prevention and enforcement, integrated air and ground firefighting forces, the Pompiers du Ciel in their last twenty years of operation have played a key role in eliminating the devastating large fires of the past by mostly preventing any fire from getting larger than 12 acres.

Responding to this call for building up regional air firefighting, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved on May 6 the interim plan of leasing two Super Scooper airplanes and a command/recognition airplane for the summer/fall fire season, while building up an effective centralized command and necessary ground firefighting.

Meanwhile and starting now, our first line of defense remains in our own hands. Let's look around for all the overgrown brush, eucalyptus and pine tree canopies, which have built up dangerous fire fuel next to our homes and our neighbors' homes. Our State's Governor recently called for law enforcement to have his neighbors in Brentwood clean up their yards after being told, by the firefighters inspecting his own home, that cleaning up his own property would not suffice to protect his home if his immediate neighbors would not clear up their fire-fuel-loaded yards!

Since March this year, the State has in fact adopted a fire-risk zone map, which places two thirds of the Del Mar hills in the highest fire-risk zone

( ftp://frap.cdf.ca.gov/fhszlocalmaps/san_diego/del_mar.pdf ). With this State action, scores of Del Mar properties are now not only subject to the City fire-protection ordinances, but also to State law requiring that we maintain proper defensive space around our homes. For specific measures we should now take to abide by the law and foremost protect our homes before the next fire season (which has already started), go to the City's web site at: www.delmar.ca.us/business/NewDevelopment/CityPlanningProjects 

Following on our “Governator's” example and leadership, and before calling the State or Federal government to the rescue when it is too late, let us all act as our community conscience and become parsimonious “Del Mar Treeminators”: From Crest Canyon to our backyards, let's urgently manage, while preserving, our green character and urban forest!


Bettina Experton is Chair, Del Mar Finance Committee



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