Report Backs Efforts in San Diego Blaze

From Associated Press

Firefighters would have been helpless to save most of the 54 homes destroyed by a sweeping wildfire two years ago, even if everything had gone right--and a lot didn’t, a city report concluded.

Resources were stretched to the breaking point in the Harmony Grove fire, said a study to be made public Monday.

Steep terrain, lack of access roads, an inadequate radio system, intrusive onlookers, wood-roofed homes and high winds all hindered firefighter efforts, the study said.

The efforts by city, county, state and federal firefighters in the disaster were “reasonable and appropriate,” the report added.


The study was reported in Saturday’s editions of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Firestorms that roared through northern San Diego County in October 1996 blackened 8,600 acres and killed one man. The flames swept from southwest of Escondido to Carlsbad in a matter of hours, destroying 101 homes and causing $37 million in damage.

In Carlsbad, some victims were skeptical of the city’s view that the firefighting response was appropriate.

“I’m very eager to see the report because I have a lot of questions about where the fire engines were when the fire started to come this way,” said Andy Davis, who lost his home in the La Costa neighborhood.

The report said mistakes were made, but flying sparks caused the flames to spread so quickly that firefighters were rarely able to coordinate their efforts.

“We had five engines coming from different places. We never ended up together,” Vista Fire Department Division Chief Tom Day said in the report. “The fire was too fast for us. By the time we would respond to a location, it would have swept past us and be somewhere else.”

Carlsbad Fire Chief Dennis Van Der Maaten said the city spent $15,000 and worked more than a year on the 117-page report.

The report recommends improvements such as increased emergency training for city employees, faster response in setting up barricades and creating evacuation sites and command posts, and establishing a community hotline to provide disaster information.