San Diego

State, Feds Could Do More to Prevent Wildfires, East County Residents Say

The comments came after the president blamed wildfires on California forest policy but never specified which funding would be affected

Some residents in Alpine feel state and federal authorities could be a doing a better job clearing forests of brush in order to prevent future wildfires.

“It’s a big deal," Julie Munoz said. "It’s a big fear,” 

“I think they’re doing a horrible job managing the land,” Steven Ritter said.

The comments come in light of remarks made by President Donald Trump this week. He blamed wildfires on California forest policy and threatened to withhold funding from the state. The President never specified what that funding would be.

Cal Fire, the state's fire protection agency, disputes the president's claims about California's forest management plans, saying it does not know what Trump was referring to.

"Cal Fire has historically utilized every resource possible to focus on reducing wildfire risk through prescribed burning, fuel reduction, and forest health," the department's deputy director Michael Mohler said in a statement to NBC 7. "We are proud to say that Cal Fire is the leader in forest management on the West Coast and we will continue to expand on this extremely important mission."

But it raised a point of concern for longtime residents in fire-prone areas of San Diego’s east county.

Munoz has owned a home that is on Cleveland National Forest property for 18-years. She’s watched brush in the surrounding area grow out of control.

"I just think it needs to be controlled more. There's a lot of dry brush out here," she said. "I see how they're clearing paths off the freeway, they're clearing all the brush away from there, but there's so much brush out here that needs to be done here too."

For Ritter, also owns a home on Cleveland National Forest property, the discussion has extra meaning. He lost a home during the 2012 Shockey Fire.

Through Oct. 14 of this year, Cal Fire has responded to more than 5,300 fires and more than 620,000 acres have burned. Could that number drop if wild lands were better managed?

“California definitely needs to do a better job, it's very apparent," Ritter said. "We have more fires burning here than anywhere else in the whole country,”

Munoz agreed.

“I mean, our firefighters work their behinds off," she said. "They're hard workers and I know they do a good job of putting them out, but they shouldn't have to put so many fires out." 

Cal Fire said it is proactively awarding grants to local communities to reduce dry brush and fuels and for forest health projects throughout the state.

"Furthermore, looking towards the future, Cal Fire is implementing 6 hand crews to work year round on these efforts. These are just some of the examples of programs that we will continue to foster." Moler said. "However, we understand that participation from many agencies and the public is vital to maintaining forest health and fuel reduction so it is our top priority that we offer as much of our resources as we have available to work towards the common goal of reducing wildfire risk."

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