Public Safety

Gate Fire a Reminder to Maintain Defensible Space

Video by James Kecskes
County and fire officials speak out about the importance of defensible space at a news conference May 23 at Gillespie Field.

This past weekend’s Gate Fire should have ended any lingering thoughts that the year’s ample rains dampened San Diego’s wildfire threat and the need to maintain defensible space around your home.

Ignoring the important task of clearing that barrier puts property, possessions and safety at risk. County and fire officials gathered at Gillespie Field Tuesday to get that message out.

They said a bumper crop of grasses and weeds that sprouted up after the rains are now entirely or mostly dead, making them prime fuel if a wildfire erupts. Those dry grasses are what drove the Gate Fire in a flash toward a campground, then Dulzura, prompting evacuations at both. Fire crews kept it from doing any damage, but it eventually burned more than 2,000 acres.

“The Gate Fire over the weekend was a reality check, a reminder that we can’t let down our guard,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob, chairwoman of the Board of the Supervisors. “With peak wildfire season coming, we must all make sure we’re as prepared as possible.”

County Fire and CAL FIRE Unit Chief Tony Mecham also warned residents against complacency.

“While it’s true that San Diego’s peak wildfire season is in July, you can see we are at risk even now. The rain resulted in more grass growth that can now carry wildfires in our backcountry and even in urban canyons, but besides that, we still have a large number of dead, dry trees and plants out there from previous years of drought. The risk is real,” said Mecham.

“In addition to the Gate Fire, our first significant wildfire this year, we have also seen more small wildfires that are less than 25 acres compared to this time last year. Statewide, the number of acres that have burned this year in California are well above the acres burned at this time in 2016.”

From January 1 through May 20 only, CAL FIRE’s San Diego unit worked 844 fires in 2016 with 1,729 acres burned. In the same time period this year, the agency has logged 921 fires with 14,894 acres burned.

The San Diego region is more prepared for wildfires this year than it has ever been and residents need to do their part to lessen their risk and be ready to evacuate if it is recommended.
The San Diego region is more prepared for wildfires this year than it has ever been and residents need to do their part to lessen their risk and be ready to evacuate if it is recommended.

Jacob said the County works year-round on regional fire preparedness through County Fire and CAL FIRE and continues to make great strides by investing in fire personnel, resources and firefighting partnerships. The regional fire response is now unrivaled with more locally stationed resources to use in the event of a wildfire than any other region in the nation.

County Office of Emergency Services Director Holly Crawford reminds residents that in addition to safeguarding their homes, they should create a home emergency plan that includes an evacuation kit, drills and reunification locations.

Learn how to prepare your homes and families for emergencies like wildfires by visiting ReadySanDiego.org and clicking on the various resources.

Take steps around your home to lower the risk:

  1. Create 100 feet of defensible space around your home.
  2. Assess your fire risk with the Wildfire Hazard Map tool.
  3. Download the Wildfire Preparedness Guide.
  4. Complete a Family Disaster Plan and assemble your emergency evacuation kit.
  5. Download the free SD Emergency App.
  6. Register for AlertSanDiego, the county’s emergency mass notification system.
Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact