2014 Firestorm Anniversary: Reminder of Drought Hazards

Wednesday marks the anniversary of an anxious, heartbreaking week when brush fires destroyed dozens of homes in several North County communities.
Accidents, arson and windblown embers all were to blame.

This year's fire season only figures to be more combustible, given the continuing effects of a nonstop drought.

The events that unfolded over a three-day span starting May 13, 2104 erupted first in a Rancho Bernardo subdivision under construction, when a backhoe hit large rocks.

That sent sparks flying into some dry brush nearby, and within minutes flames went racing up steep, brushy hillsides toward neighborhoods on the summit.

Fire agencies swarmed to the scene from all over — some finding themselves delayed getting into gated communities and confronted with narrow, winding roads leading to cul-de-sacs.

Streets were snarled with the traffic of escaping homeowners.

While leading edges of fire took a turn south into SantaLuz, offshoots headed toward Rancho Penasquitos and Carmel Valley.

Quick work by firefighters and efficient aerial attacks turned the advances aside and kept property damage to a minimum.

Firefighters praised proactive homeowners in those communities for creating "defensible space" buffers to keep flames from reaching their properties.

But the following days brought more winds, flare-ups and new outbreaks through North County, engulfing neighborhoods in Carlsbad, San Marcos, Escondido and Harmony Grove.

"At one point it was going in one direction, and kind of flipped over,” San Marcos resident Stacy Thorne told NBC 7 in an interview Tuesday. “ So it was pretty dramatic as it was happening … I'll never forget my backyard full of smoke."

Now residents are casting a wary eye at the browning hillsides and wondering what may come their way during this fire season.

"You know, we're on a restricted watering schedule, so our yards are pretty dry as it is, “ said Carmel Valley resident Becky Klunk. "We live very close to the valley, where it's extremely dry. There are migrant camps in that area, so we wonder what's going on down there, if there's any fires that they start."

Because so much brush and foliage is drier this year, firefighters warn that whatever ignites in brush-surrounded neighborhoods and urban canyons this year is expected to burn hotter, sooner  and move much faster.

“It's making us acquire more resources, more aircraft, more fuel to handle what in years past might have been handled on a first-alarm basis,” said Asst. Chief Brian Fennessey, who took command of the Rancho Bernardo response efforts for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Since then, ironically, scores of new homes have popped up on the mesas overlooking the valley where that blaze began — providing more potential targets for whatever fires might materialize there in the future.

Contact Us