As most of you know who have been reading the news, the wildfires in San Diego, my home, have been causing much devastation. According to San Diego’s NPR station KPBS, an “estimated 245,000 acres burned and 1200 homes destroyed in San Diego County” (reported as of 10:09am Pacific time). Over 250,000 individuals have been evacuated in San Diego County alone. Yesterday the smoke and ash from the fires was so thick at my school that it would sting your eyes just to got outside. At 11am the sun only had the strength of a newly-risen sun because of the thick cloud cover. And where I was in La Jolla was not even the worst of it.
Currently I am staying at my girlfriend’s house in Irvine, CA but even here there is a fire in Portola Hills, about 4-5 miles away. Due to evacuation traffic, it took me 3 hours and 15 minutes to travel the 65-70 miles between La Jolla and Irvine. Nevertheless, I am thankful to be safe and sound.
What I would like to write about today is the well-coordinated effort of government officials, red cross workers, emergency personal, police, firefighters and volunteers. The key to a successful emergency effort is coordination between local police and firefighters who have an detailed understanding of a city’s needs, with larger state (e.g.: Cal Fire) and federal (e.g.: FEMA) workers who bring additional capital and manpower resources to the region.
Reverse 9-1-1 calls were made for individuals who had to evacuate from their homes. Police patrolled these evacuated homes to protect them from looters. Numerous shelters were set up in the safer areas of San Diego. The city/county even had a plan so that if these shelters filled up, backup shelters were prepared to come on line. After the Virginia Tech massacre, my university (UCSD) installed text message, email and phone alert system and employed these methods to inform faculty, students and staff of wildfire risks and school closure. The evacuation of over 100 sick and elderly patients from Pomerado Hospital even seemed to take place in an orderly fashion.
This is not to say that there have been no problems. Firefighters on the ground in Orange County called for more air support to put out the flames, but high winds for much of the day yesterday made the use of water and flame retardant from the air infeasible.
While Katrina was one of the greatest disasters in U.S. history, the repercussions from that disaster have made municipalities all over the U.S. have to prepare for the worst. In San Diego, these preparations are helping to save many lives.
I wish that everyone in southern California is able to stay safe.