San Diego Fires
By Paul Vircsik

I just came off the fire line from being dispatched on Sunday 10-26.  I am home for two days to move and then back on the strike team assignment.  While changing my numbers and canceling utilities I checked the web site.  I wanted to share what I know to this date.  The Cedar fire in San Diego County is now the largest in the state's history, over 230,000 acres.  At time of dispatch it was at 8,000.  18 hours later it was over 130,000.  We were told this was an intentionally set fire as a signal for help from a lost hunter.  The access out of the areas was open for all who wanted to leave.  Some stayed and lost lives.  Some were over run by fire too quickly to leave as this fire started at night.  The Santa Ana winds were at times in excess of 60mph.  They were erratic, and extremely gusty.

Nothing is going to stop a fire like this except removal of fuel, the fire running out of fuel, and weather.  What we do to control a fire like this is protect structures: by burning out fuel as the fire approaches, extinguishing homes that just start to burn, and stage for the next event.  Once a building is well involved there is nothing we can do.  There are other homes to try to protect.  We scout the area to be protected and if we can protect a home without endangering our lives we will.  If not, that home is written off no matter what its value.  That includes the access in and out of the fire's path.  We protected mobile homes and let huge homes burn because their defensible space of access to them was outrageous for were they were located.  In the wildland.  After the fire passes, other hand and engine crews put out hot spots.  Be mindful that the media has a field day with this kind of event.  Some of the info is accurate but as the days wear on it gets inaccurate.  We drove through areas of 50 + homes burning at the same time while around corner all is well.  No one truly knows how many homes and buildings have been lost yet.  Only after the fire is contained and all areas are accessed will an accurate count be known.  I have heard upwards of 600 homes in this fire alone.

Most of the devastation occurred in the first 18 hours.  My strike team of 5 engines covered six different areas in 12 hours bouncing from area to area as the fire progressed.  Flame lengths over 100 feet were common.  Burned up hose, lost water sources due to power outages, and breathing black air was the normal day.  Visibility for the whole area is about 100 yards.  We did not sleep for 48 hours and my right eye is closed due to ash.  Most of the crews in fire camp you see on the news are fresh arriving from hundreds of miles away.  The firefighters that are still out there on the line have been so since the beginning, eating what we took with us at the start.  The bagged baloney sandwich meals finally began arriving on the third day.  For those who wrote me, thank you.  I will try to update this after I return.  The containment date for this fire is November 5th.  Containment only means the fire is surrounded, not extinguished.

My advice as always is to be prepared.  I have seen countless vehicles leaving the areas we were in that had only people in them.  If something like this happens on the ranch follow the plan established by the ESC for the fire at hand.  Know that these events happen extremely quickly and are very fluid.  Talk to you soon,


Meet the author: Read about Paul Vircsik's background