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Report Urges Overhaul of Firefighting Systems

Times Staff Writer

A task force studying ways to improve fire protection after last year’s disastrous Cedar and Paradise wildfires recommended Thursday that the county’s patchwork system of fire agencies be overhauled to improve coordination and communication.

Many of the recommendations made by the San Diego Regional Fire Prevention and Emergency Preparedness Task Force echo those from other investigative groups formed after other large fires in San Diego County.

Among the recommendations are better radios, improved training and an updated “battle plan.”

But the task force, formed by Mayor Dick Murphy and county Supervisor Greg Cox, said the fire-prone county cannot risk having its 73-page report put aside and ignored until the next disaster.

The City Council and the Board of Supervisors are to consider the recommendations in the next two weeks.

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Last year’s Cedar and Paradise fires raged for nearly two weeks across more than 300,000 acres, killing 16 people and doing more than $400 million in damage.

Firefighting efforts were hampered by long-standing problems of inadequate personnel, training, equipment and communication.

Murphy on Thursday praised the report for its thoroughness and said he endorsed two of its main recommendations: updating the city’s building code and enhancing a brush management program. Last year’s fires fed on vast stretches of dry brush.

In an unusual note, the report calls on residents to become their own mini-fire departments, including having family evacuation plans.

Fire agencies need to “promote the universal message of self-reliance in times of disaster,” it says.

The task force report was issued on the same day that Sergio Martinez, 34, of West Covina appeared in federal court in San Diego and pleaded not guilty to charges of starting the Cedar fire and then lying about it.

Martinez was released on $100,000 bail.


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