The Mayor’s Town Hall meeting had been cancelled—due to the fires. I found this out when I checked my email at 3:30 pm, shortly before going into town for said meeting. As I had some errands to run, and according to my news source there were no fires in or around Escondido at the time, I drove down the hill to the I-15. (I live in Hidden Meadows.) As I reached the bottom of the hill, it was clear the I-15 north was gridlocked as far as my eyes could see to the left or right. So was the North Center City Pkwy. I did not know that the I-15 had been closed around its intersection with Route 76 earlier, due to the “highway” fire. Since my errands would take, at most, some 30 minutes, I decided that they could wait, if not a day, several days, and turned around at the ARCO gas station (that was closing as I did so—not sure why.)
My selfish thought at the time was, “what if a fire had sprung up in Valley Center, just east of Hidden Meadows?” My primary escape route to my sister’s house in Covina would not be accessible. Well, I am not poor, my family could have gone south on the I-15 and found shelter—would others also be able to do so? I love Hidden Meadows. We’ve lived here 34 years. My son grew up here. He and his friends used to travel the few miles between their homes without fear, on foot, in the 1980’s. I think it would still be safe for him to do so today. But, in retrospect, this community is the epitome of “dumb” growth. It has no public transportation. There is one local deli, but the distance to a regular supermarket is at least four miles. It is surrounded by highly inflammable chaparral habitat that I was taught when I took a graduate course at U. U. Irvine, in “Chaparral Ecology” in 1970, is highly susceptible to fires. Understanding that fact, I supported the formation of the Deer Springs Fire District in 1981. We agreed to tax ourselves to support a professional fire department.
It is times like this, when nature (or arsonists according to County Supervisor Bill Horn) threatens that we need to ask serious questions about where homes should be built. I remember a County Planning Commission meeting I had attended to contest the Accretive development just east of the I-15 and the West Lilac Road bridge, proposing some 1700 homes on farmland and natural habitat. (Which, by the way is still being presented to the County as the Lilac Hills project.) One of the Commissioners bemoaned the denial of the Merriam Mountain project by the County Board of Supervisors. He noted that this project would be just as wonderful as the San Elijo Hills project in San Marcos. The San Elijo Hills were evacuated today, and one of the complaints was that there was insufficient egress from the fire. Thus the gridlock on Hwy. 78 and I-15. The Merriam Mountain project would have produced some 1700 homes across the I-15 from Mountain Meadow road—my egress from any fire. One shudders at the thought of trying to flee a fire with the Merriam Mountain development when there would be fires to the east and fires to the west. Not a problem today, but with the unquestionable warming of the climate—an un-doubtable problem in the near future.
So, for the City Council of Escondido to even contemplate, much less approve, a study of a dumb growth project like the Safari Highlands Ranch, is just beyond any rational understanding.
As a young person, I remember my father upon a ladder pouring water on a flame. He was a
supervisor for the Esc. Mutual Water Company. I also remember seeing prisoners trucked in,
in the back of open trucks, to fight the fires.
Fires are truly inevitable, but we are having much oftener than in the past, and this promises
to continue. My interaction with the weed abatement branch of fire prevention suggests that
the city is not fully staffed for this very obvious critical concern. Most of these employees
are part-time. This is unacceptable.