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Wildfire in S. California: Heartland Fire Communications Rep. Discusses Efforts to Contain Fast-Moving Blaze

Aired January 3, 2001 - 9:55 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have more pictures and information for you on the wildfire burning out of control now in Southern California, east of San Diego. These pictures coming to us from our affiliate KGTV, this is along Interstate 8, the highway that goes east and west out of San Diego county. As we understand it, the flames are on both sides of the freeway, the freeway has been closed, and we've already seen one house engulfed in flames.

For more information, let's bring in Jeff Fehlberg. He is with Heartland Fire Communications in San Diego County.

Jeff, thanks for joining us.


KAGAN: What can you tell us about the situation right now? We understand it is closest to Alpine, California.

FEHLBERG: That's right. It is really affecting the east end of the Alpine community. Also, the Vihas (ph) Indian Reservation has a significant number of structures that are threatened right now. We have lost some homes in both the Alpine and Vihas communities. We have a large number of engines that serving as structure protection right now. The Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry are directly attacking the fire as well. So, basically, several hundred acres right now, it is not even close to containment, it is being fed by a fast-moving Santa Ana winds. And there's been some evacuation of the communities of Viejas and the Rancho-Palace Verdes estates area of Alpine.

KAGAN: When you say Rancho Palace Verdes, I know there's another Rancho Palace Verdes to the north, near Los Angeles, but we are talking about a different Rancho Palace Verdes.

FEHLBERG: Right, this is a small community of 50 to 100 homes in the community of Alpine that is described as Palace Verdes Estates, and they are specifically targeting that area for evacuation. They have set up an evacuation center at an elementary school in Alpine. So people are advised to check in at that location, where they can get the best information as far as the status of the fire.

KAGAN: Jeff, do you know how many houses have been lost so far? FEHLBERG: No, we haven't gotten a direct number reported from the fields by watching the local media here. It looks like we've seen at least a half a dozen to a dozen buildings that have burned. I'm not certain how many of those are residences, at least several of them appear to be some larger residences that are burned.

KAGAN: Sorry, Jeff, we lost our pictures there for a second, but if we still have you with us. Once again, for folks not familiar with this area, tell us, give us a better description of where this is.

FEHLBERG: It is roughly 20 miles east of San Diego, this is the really the very end of the urban parts of San Diego County as it moves into a rural setting. It is a bedroom community, and the area is just dotted with a large number of homes, very rugged.

KAGAN: Our earlier reports said it was sparsely populated, but you would say that's not a good description.

FEHLBERG: Well, it is a typical rural community in that there's homes that are on large acre lots, but they are all surrounding three sides of this fire up on Hillsides View Homes, and basically all right on the edge of very thick vegetation, and hilly terrain in this area here. So it is a significant threat to these residences.

KAGAN: Thick but dry?

FEHLBERG: Pardon me?

KAGAN: It is thick vegetation, but I imagine very dry.

FEHLBERG: Yes, we just finished our driest month of December that we've had in 70 years, we had no precipitation at all. We typically had very low humidity and temperatures in the 80s, 70s and 80s throughout the month of December. It has been beautiful here except last night picking up heavy winds, and we have a wind advisory through at least this afternoon, that's what the problem with this blaze has been, the large amount of homes that are on the periphery of this fire, and it is still fed by fairly rapid moving winds right now.

KAGAN: Jeff, stay with us. We want to just let our viewers know we are going from live pictures to earlier taped pictures fed in by our affiliate KGTV, we have a number of affiliates in the San Diego area and are able to make use of all of them. So this latest picture is coming to us from KGTV.

Jeff, tell us a little bit more about the wind and how strong it is blowing.

FEHLBERG: My understanding is that it is 25 to 35-mile-an-hour winds with some gusts of maybe a little bit faster than that. It's blowing apparently to the west and south, which is typical of Santa Ana wind conditions in this area. So it is an unusual wind condition that happens in Southern California, where the winds are reversed from the normal direction, of coming out of the west. And they are typically very fast-moving, very dry winds. We are having problems right now with the fires actually spotting, picking up embers and then blowing over the firefighters, creating additional fires, as a result of this. So it's a quickly moving fire right now.

KAGAN: In terms of that movement, what struck me about this was how quickly it did move. By our information, it broke out about 4:20 a.m. Pacific time, which is than three hours ago, and yet several hundred acres, has already hit homes, has already crossed the freeway, this is a quick moving fire.

FEHLBERG: You are right.

KAGAN: Do you have enough resources to fight the fire?

FEHLBERG: Well, that is like asking a general if he has got enough soldiers to fight a battle here, no, we don't have enough resources, we are depending on our extensive mutual aid agreements, using the Department of Forestry and Forest Service to coordinate bringing in additional resources from both within the county and, if necessary, from out of county and out of state. The immediacy of the fire is protecting the homes that are under an immediate threat. That's the focus of the 30 to 40 local engines that we have dispatched to the fire.

We are essentially trying to make sure that lives and property are kept as safe as possible, and trying to reduce the number of structures that are lost at this point. But it is a hit and miss once the structure becomes heavily involved in it.

KAGAN: Jeff, we wish you well with those efforts, we know this is going to be a really busy day for you. We are going to let you go. We will probably check back with you more to get more information, once again, that is Jeff Fehlberg from the Heartland Fire Communication in San Diego County. This fire currently burning out of control in the Alpine area, about 30 miles east of San Diego along Interstate 8.



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