Tuesday, October 21, 2008

red flag

Skycrane passes over a burned structure next to
the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway, Oct. 13 2008.

By Guy McCarthy

SAN BERNARDINO - The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for critical fire weather conditions and explosive fire growth potential tonight through Friday in the mountains and valleys of southwest California.

Officials with the San Bernardino National Forest have characterized the forecast Santa Ana wind event as "weak to moderate."

Nonetheless, authorities have beefed up fire response readiness with additional firefighters, aircraft, and extended patrols, according to forest spokesman John Miller.

There are a total of 30 engines assigned to the San Bernardino National Forest this week, as well as four hotshot crews, three tanker planes, three Skycrane helitankers, two other helicopters, and an air attack lead plane ready to respond to fires as they are reported, according to Miller.

"We take the forecasted weather very seriously and add additional resources as needed," Forest Fire and Aviation Chief Michael Dietrich said in a prepared statement. "Even with more patrols we need the public to join in fire prevention, both being careful and reporting suspicious activities immediately."

Last week's winds stoked fires in the San Fernando Valley and in the city of San Bernardino. The Sesnon and Marek fires burned more than 19,000 acres, destroyed more than 50 homes and contributed to two deaths. Fires in San Bernardino gutted several businesses, forced closures of Interstate 215, and threatened neighborhoods at the base of Little Mountain.

Near Porter Ranch, Oct. 13 2008.

Timed to coincide with the heightened state of awareness, the San Bernardino County Mountain Area Safety Taskforce has scheduled a press conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday in upper Waterman Canyon at Highway 18. Officials intend to address fire preparedness, fire history, new building codes, evacuation procedures, fire resource availability and arson awareness.

Those expected to speak include San Bernardino County Fire Chief Pat Dennen, sheriff's Lt. Rick Ells, and Forest Supervisor Jeanne Wade Evans, said sheriff's spokeswoman Jodi Miller.

The press conference will be staged at the site of a commercial structure that was destroyed during the 2003 Old Fire. Sheriff's officials noted this week marks the anniversaries of the Old and Grand Prix fires in 2003, and of the Slide and Grass Valley fires in 2007.

The fires are among the most devastating in county history, leaving more than 1,400 homes in ashes.

Sunday is the anniversary of the 2006 Esperanza Fire, when five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died trying to protect a vacant home near Twin Pines, in the San Jacinto Mountains section of the San Bernardino National Forest.

Early Oct. 23 2007 in Running Springs.
Photos by Guy McCarthy.


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