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March 2009 home page

Are We More Ready?
March 2009 | Carol Kerridge, El Amigo

See by Leslie Ann Woollenweber's photos
of the March 22 brush cleanup in Crest Canyon.

Remember the time when most of us had never heard of Witch Creek? Almost a year and a half ago, a small fire ignited in that dry creek. Fanned by voracious Santa Ana winds, it grew into a major firestorm and within 24 hours spread almost 50 miles west. Its flying embers, caught by dry vegetation, combustible roofs, fences and anything else in its path, ignited and destroyed hundreds of homes and was finally contained as the winds subsided only 5 miles from Del Mar’s border. Del Mar activated our Emergency Operations Center and many of our residents were asked to evacuate. Those who remained in town mostly remained inside because of the smoke, soot and flying ash that permeated our air for a couple of days. The Del Mar Fairgrounds became a major evacuation center temporarily housing thousands of evacuees. Remember Witch Creek now?

Following this major event, we all made promises to clean our gutters, trim our trees, clear out the brush in our canyons and be much more vigilant in reducing the risks of fire in our homes, yards and neighborhoods. Our City government has also been hard at work fulfilling promises and requests that were decided upon soon after that firestorm. Last July, our City Council adopted the updated Wildland-Urban Interface Code. This updated code gives many more specific recommendations for reducing risk in neighborhoods and nearby contours and canyons. The City Council has modified the Fire Code to require all existing shake-shingle roofs be replaced by July 2013, and all new homes be protected by an automatic fire sprinkler system.

Soon after the devastating fires in Oct ’07, Cal-Fire (the new title for California Department of Forestry) evaluated all cities in California for degree of fire risk, accessibility, topography, vegetation, etc. They mandated that each City enforce the “100 ft. defensible space” guideline for homes that border canyons and are in the Wildland-Urban Interface area. In Del Mar, they identified 349 homes that are at greatest risk within 400 ft. of the west side of Crest Canyon and have asked each of these home owners to undergo an exterior fire inspection. This past September, Del Mar re-hired newly retired Capt. Tom Wolf as a part-time fire inspector to oversee the project. A perfect choice for the job, Tom was a member of the Del Mar Fire Dept for 35 yrs. prior to retiring and is very familiar with Del Mar. He reports that the inspections have been very successful -- only 33 more homes to complete -- and that most residents have been helpful and cooperative. He is leading the effort to reduce the fuels on the western edge of Crest Canyon through volunteer efforts; however no work can be done after March 1, 2009 as it is the beginning of the breeding season for the California Gnatcatchers. The Gnatcatchers are a federally listed, threatened species of songbirds who make their home in the CA southern coastal areas.

Isn’t it commendable that so much has been accomplished? Our town seems quite a bit more safe and the Gnatcatchers can come home to their familiar Crest Canyon.

See by Leslie Ann Woollenweber's photos of the brush cleanup in Crest Canyon.


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