Some Santee neighborhoods are being cleared of brush in an effort to protect homes and save lives in the event of a fast-moving fire.
The dry brush and dead palm tree fronds that sit just feet away from several homes in the San Diego River corridor are difficult to extinguish once they've caught fire, Santee Fire chief John Garlow said Friday.
According to the fire department, there have been 55 smoke or fire-related calls in this area so far this year.
“It’s very concerning,” Garlow said.
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The city of Santee recently issued an emergency declaration allowing the fire department to immediately hire contractors to clear defensible space within 100 feet of homes along the river corridor. Because of the emergency nature of the work, the department isn't be required to seek competitive bidding.
“This declaration of emergency, San Diego River Conservancy and everybody working together will go a long way to protect our folks here,” Garlow said.
The fire department plans to remove non-native fire-prone species such as palms and create a safe evacuation zone for seniors along the Mast Park West Walking Trail. Dry, brittle brush along the trail will get thinned 10 feet on each side.
“If there were a fire, [seniors] would be able to have a little buffer to get out," Garlow said. "Some of them are not moving as fast as others, so we want to provide them safety."
The fire chief said nearby homes were built at a time when fire-resistant materials were not required, making them move vulnerable compared with newer homes.
Several recent fires sparked by people are under investigation. These types of fires are terribly difficult to manage and cause a lot of safety issues for firefighters, Garlow said.
“Some of these fires grow, and if they get into the palm tree later, they get bigger and bigger before firefighters are even able to figure out how to weave their way through the brush to get to them,” Garlow said. “I do not like my firefighters having to walk through this type of stuff for a quarter-mile, half-mile. There’s no real trail system through the river bottom, so often they are just tromping through, making their own trail, to try to get to these places.”
Homeowners doing renovation work on their house's exteriors should use fire-resistant materials, recommend firefighters.
The work is expected to start within the next two weeks, officials said.