Report finds problems with county fire maps - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Report finds problems with county fire maps

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8/CNS) - The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously directed staff to convene a workshop of fire, government and military officials to improve coordination and address 21 recommendations in a report on last month's wildfires.

Various agencies worked together much more effectively during the outbreak that began May 13 compared to previous firestorms in 2003 and 2007, but "we can't rest on our laurels," Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

One area where the county fell short was posting fire perimeter maps online showing where the fires were actually burning.

A CBS News 8 investigation first revealed that it took San Diego County Emergency Services several days to post the fire perimeter maps.  By the time the maps went online, some of the fires were almost out.

The wildfire report concluded the public desperately needs to see fire boundary maps during the initial stages of a wildfire.

More than a dozen fires broke out between that week, burning down 65 structures, including 46 single-family homes, according to county statistics. Several apartments and commercial structures were also destroyed.

Flames scorching tens of thousands of acres of brush forced the evacuation of the Cal State San Marcos campus and temporarily closed numerous schools and businesses.

Damage to private property was estimated at $29.8 million. Officials figured it cost $27.9 million to fight the blazes.

Evacuees were told to log on to the county emergency web site (sdcountyemergency.com) but when they arrived all they could see were evacuation zones. The actual fire perimeters were missing.

The report blames CAL FIRE for not uploading the maps in a timely manner to the county’s Emergency Operations Center, though the county and CAL FIRE routinely conduct emergency training drills throughout the year.

“Fire perimeter data was not available from CAL FIRE during the first several days of the firestorm,” the county report said.

CAL FIRE says it takes time to make sure the maps are accurate and the perimeters have to be approved before they can be released on a public web site.

The fire agency is in the process of rolling out a new mapping system, called Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS).

The NICS system, once fully operational, will allow ground crews to update perimeter maps in real time using collaborative software on laptops in the field.

Among other major needs addressed in the report were for public information campaigns to get residents to better prepare for wildfires and follow evacuation orders at a cost of $400,000; for emergency information to be delivered in languages other than English; for forward-looking infrared imaging devices to help firefighters locate hot spots in smoky conditions; for pre-positioning firefighting aircraft at the onset of dangerous fire weather; and for ways that officials can verify information quickly so it can be given to the public.

County officials also discussed a possible need for a third firefighting helicopter. Jacob said it could take eight to 10 months to acquire another chopper.

Staffers were directed to convene the workshop within 45 days and come back to the board in three months with ideas on how to standardize regulations during red flag warnings and other dangerous fire weather.

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