Recent San Diego Wildfires
San Diego is the second largest city in California, and has been called the “birthplace of California.” This is because was the first part of what is now the West Coast of the United States to be visited by Europeans. Though a beautiful and prosperous city, San Diego has been affected by multiple wildfires in recent years. Here is a guide to the major recent wildfires that damaged San Diego.
1. The Cedar Fire
The Cedar Fire was a massive wildfire that burned during October and November of 2003. It burned 273,246 acres of land in San Diego County. Spurned by the Santa Anna winds, it destroyed 2,820 buildings and took 15 lives before being contained on November 4. It is currently the third-largest wildfire in California state history, as well as being the third-deadliest and the fourth-most destructive. It caused over $1.3 billion in damages. The fire began in the Cuyamaca Mountains within the Cleveland National Forest and spread into San Diego County by October 25. The U.S. Forest Service deployed hundreds of firefighters as soon as the fire had been spotted. A helicopter equipped with a Bambi bucket was forced to turn back before it could drop water on the wildfire, due to the approaching sunset.
The Santa Anna wind picked up shortly after the fire began and helped spread the flames. The quickly moving fire swept through Wildcat Canyon and Muth Valley in northern Lakeside, killing 12 people. 39 homes in the Barona Indian Reservation were destroyed by the fire. After crossing over Interstate 15 and several other large highways, the wildfire burned hundreds of homes in the Scripps Ranch community of San Diego.
The fire then spread to Alpine, Crest, Lake Jennings, and Harbison Canyon, burning hundreds of homes. Most of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the community of Cuyamaca were destroyed, along with 500 homes surrounding the nearby town of Julian. On November 3 firefighters contained the fire, and by December 5 the fire was brought under full control.
Air travel in and around the area was disrupted by the fire, and then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency. The Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego was used as an evacuation site, causing an NFL game between the San Diego Chargers and the Miami Dolphins to move last minute to the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.
It was determined by investigators that the fire was started by a novice hunter who became lost in the woods and created a fire to signal rescuers. The fire quickly spread out of the hunter’s control due to the weather conditions of low moisture and high heat.
2. 2005 Labor Day brush fire
Though a small fire, this fire was the worst to affect San Diego in the two years since the Cedar Fire. The fire injured 6 people, but did not destroy any structures. In Rancho Peñasquitos, San Diego a brush fire began in the field behind Mount Carmel High School. Wind gusts then spread the fire up the slopes of Little Black Mountain in Black Mountain Open Space Park. The fire very quickly grew from 30 acres to 200 acres, and caused many homes in the Rancho Peñasquitos area to be evacuated. Firefighters were able to control the fire within the same day, preventing much greater destruction.
The fire was determined to have been started by a teenage boy, who was arrested on charges of arson.
3. The Witch Creek Fire.
The second-largest wildfire of 2007 California wildfire season was the Witch Creek Fire, also known as the Witch Fire. Individually smaller than the Zaca Fire of the same wildfire season, it surpassed it once merging with the McCoy and Poomacha fires to become the Witch-Guejito-Poomacha Complex Fire.
The fire began in Witch Creek Canyon, near Santa Ysabel, then spread westward with the assistance of powerful Santa Anna winds and consumed large areas in San Diego County. The fire merged with Poomacha Fire to the north, near Palomar Mountain, and then the next day merged with the McCoy. At its height, 80-100 flames were observed, and the Witch Fire showed signs of a firestorm.
500,000 people evacuated as a result of the Witch Creek Fire, contributing to the evacatuion of 1,000,000 residents of Southern California that year, the largest evacuation in state history. It is the fifth-most destructive wildfire in California’s recorded history.
The fire began after strong Santa Anna winds blew down a power line, creating sparks. The ensuing fire quickly spread to San Diego Country Estates, Ramona, Rancho Bernardo, Poway, and Escondido. The fire then jumped over Interstate 15 and did heavy damage to Lake Hodges, Del Dios, and Rancho Santa Fe. The fire then moved west towards the coast. This caused many people to evacuate, but shifting winds prevented the fire from burning many of these homes.
The McCoy Fire then began in the Pine Hills area in eastern San Diego. This fire was rapidly contained, but hotspots still burning within its perimeter would eventually merge with the Witch Fire.
The Guejito Fire ignited to the southeast of the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and rapidly expanded to Interstate 15. This caused the freeway to close down, disrupting evacuations due to the Witch Fire. The Guejito Fire then combined with the Witch Creek Fire.
The fire reached into Rancho Bernardo as residents between State Route 56 and the Del Dios Highway were ordered to evacuate. The fire became a firestorm and residents of Escondido and Del Mar were ordered to evacuate, as well as the Mesa Grande Indian Reservation. By October 22, the Witch Creek Fire burned at the massive size of 145,000 acres.
The Poomacha Fire then began in the La Jolla Indian Reservation in San Diego County. It rapidly grew and the town of Julian was ordered to evacuate.
The Poomacha Fire merged with the Witch Creek Fire to the south of Palomar Mountain on October 25, creating a massive complex fire. The next day the Santa Anna winds subsided, slowing the spread of fire and allowing firefighters to more effectively contain it.
On November 6, the main area of the Witch Creek Fire was completely contained, and by November 13 the Poomacha Fire was contained, thus bringing the complex under control. In total, 1,141 homes were destroyed, 40 firefighters were injured, 239 vehicles destroyed, and 2 people killed.
4. The Harris Fire
The Harris Fire burned in southern San Diego County during late October and early November of 2007. It was the second-largest wildfire of 2007 in California, and was the deadliest with a total of 8 fatalities. It started in Potrero, near the Mexican border. It also burned in northern Mexico.
5. May 2014 San Diego wildfires
A swarm of 20 wildfires all occurred during May 2014 in San Diego County. These include the Jacumba Fire, the Bernardo Fire, the Tomahawk Fire, the Poinsettia Fire, the Highway Fire, the River Fire, the Cocos Fire, the Freeway Fire, the Aurora Fire, the Pulgas Fire, the San Mateo Fire, and more. Many of these were accidentally begun, while at least one is suspected to be a case of arson. In total, $60 million worth of damage was done, and there were 6 injuries and 1 fatality.
These fires were caused in part by weather conditions such as drought, a heat wave, and strong Santa Anna winds. The Cocos Fire was the last of these to be contained.
There have been many more fires in the history of San Diego County, but these are five of the most devastating in recent years. Remember that most homes that burn during a wildfire are ignited by embers, not flames, making it incredibly important to make your home fire safe against embers—especially if you live in the WUI (Wildland-urban interface). In order to do this, install a fire safe ember-resistant vent such as the Vulcan Vent. These vents are required by Chapter 7A of the California Building Code to be included in newly constructed homes in fire hazard zones, but older homes should be equipped as well.