About 750 firefighters from across San Diego County gathered in Alpine this week to practice how crews can work together to fight powerful wildfires like the Lilac Fire that burned 150 homes and 4,100 acres of land in 2017.
The efforts are part of San Diego County's annual Wildland Fire Preparedness Exercise that brings together emergency personnel from various agencies across the county for three days to train in attacking and defending against potentially devastating wildfires.
Heartland Fire & Rescue spokesperson Sonny Saghera said heavy showers in the winter don't diminish San Diego's chance for wildfires this year.
"As you drive around San Diego County you’ll notice a lot of that green grass crop; everything is green right now. Eventually, that tall green grass is going to dry out and when that cures that’s going start grass fires initially," Saghera said.
During their three-day training, the hundreds of firefighters train extensively in communications, firefighter survival, structure defense and hose deployments under simulated emergency conditions.
The county's firefighting aircraft is also used during these practices. These water-dropping planes joined ground forces in coordinated fire attacks under simulated fire conditions, a key tool in fighting wildfires.
Raging wildfires have destroyed dozens of homes in San Diego County in recent years despite firefighter's best efforts to defend against them; fires can burn out of control when they spark amid hot, dry and windy conditions.
In 2017, the Lilac Fire charred 4,100-acres of land, burning down more than 150 structures, in San Diego's North County. The fire exploded to 500 acres within 20 minutes amid gusty winds and low humidity.
It took crews ten days to get a handle on the blaze, something Cal Fire San Diego said at the time could not have been done without their "great partnerships and teamwork."
And in 2018 in Alpine, where firefighters are conducting their wildland fire training, the West Fire destroyed about three dozen homes after a spark turned into a 500-acre blaze amid a dangerous heat wave.
Crews with the Cleveland National Forest Service, Heartland Fire and Cal Fire as well as well as team members with San Diego Gas & Electric and AT&T worked together during the firefight.
The Wildland Fire Preparedness Exercise aims to strengthen those partnerships in real-world training scenarios. The three-day exercise was funded by SDG&E for the 10th year in a row.