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San Diego Fire Panel to Find Flaws in System

Officials in San Diego County create a task force to identify ways the region can improve its tactics when massive blazes erupt.

November 14, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The mayor and the chairman of the Board of Supervisors announced creation Thursday of a task force aimed at adding fire resources and improving coordination in the wake of wildfires that overwhelmed firefighters.

While task forces have been formed after earlier fires, officials promised that this time the recommendations would not be ignored.

"For the naysayers who say this is just going to be a whitewash, I say: Give us six months, let the commission come forth with recommendations, and hold us accountable," said Supervisor Greg Cox.

The San Diego Regional Fire Prevention and Emergency Preparedness Task Force will issue a tentative report in 90 days and a final report in 180 days. .

The Cedar fire, which erupted Oct. 25 in an isolated, brushy canyon in the backcountry northeast of San Diego, destroyed 2,200 homes, burned more than 300,000 acres, and killed 14 people.

Before last month's fires, the city's most destructive fire occurred on June 30, 1985, destroying or damaging 123 homes in Normal Heights.

Much of the criticism now being leveled by property owners was also heard after the Normal Heights fire: complaints about lack of firefighters and fire engines in the first hours of the blaze, lack of aerial tankers and poor communications.

A task force later recommended better communication gear, a more aggressive program aimed at clearing brush and weeds, tougher building codes to ban combustible materials. While some changes were made, most of the recommendations were given only minimal support.

Murphy vowed that this task force will not suffer the same fate. "My belief is that we cannot form this task force and then not listen to its recommendations," he said.

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