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Monday, Oct. 29, 2007 | I heard the complaints and our delegation of state-elected officials (senators and assemblymembers from throughout the county) had daily conference calls beginning Monday regarding the fire response efforts.

We asked CalFire reps about this, and learned from the state’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) that a concern of state firefighters regarding putting military aircraft into the air immediately was not only the winds, but the lack of radio interoperability with locals. In some cases, they still don’t have all military aircraft on the same radio communication frequencies with local firefighting agencies. If craft were brought in from out of state, this problem could get worse.

One danger of this situation is having an air tanker drop water/retardant on what appears to be a wildfire, when in fact it is a backfire set to help with suppression efforts. They also need to be in constant communication to direct air crews quickly if the situation on the ground shifts.

So, while inter-agency coordination and communication has improved since the Cedar Fire of 2003, it is still not perfect. It will be a priority for all of us when we return to Sacramento in January, if not sooner.

In terms of rebuilding: as Chair of the Assembly Housing/Community Development Committee, I’ve already toured parts of the burned areas in Rancho Bernardo. I am working with the governor’s office and our Appropriations Committee Chairman, Mark Leno, to provide emergency funds for programs that will help low/moderate income homeowners begin to rebuild as soon as possible. I also want to push for safe migrant worker housing, so people can be located and evacuated safely and not burn to death in canyon encampments.

Also, while driving through the burn area Friday, I spoke briefly with a city engineer surveying the damage. He offered some ideas on better infrastructure designs to suppress wildfires in the neighborhoods on the edge of open space such as the San Pasqual Valley. One suggestion was for the city to install sprinklers on lightposts that can be activated remotely to douse embers as they fall from the sky towards residential areas.

Also, residents living near fire prone areas should install “fire settings” on their irrigation system, to aim the water at their homes during an emergency, to suppress, if not completely extinguish, a blaze.

One irony is that people invest more money in larger, more expensive homes in view areas, such as those in the area of Rancho Bernardo overlooking the San Pasqual Valley. Yet, to date, they have not invested more in fire protection equipment.

My committee will work to inform owners of their options to better protect their homes in case of future fires.

Finally, while the 76th district was not directly affected by fires, we became evacuation ground zero. To help in the recovery efforts, I have cancelled a Housing Committee hearing set for Tuesday, and instead will set up an assistance center for people who are living temporarily in this area, and need to begin filing claims with FEMA and other agencies.

This assistance center will be set up Tuesday, Oct. 30, beginning at 6 p.m., in the Old Town CalTrans building auditorium at 4050 Taylor St. If people have evacuated to this area, and can’t easily travel to other assistance centers, they are welcome to come to the event and begin the process of recovery/rebuilding.

For more information, call my assembly office: 619-645-3090.

I appreciate help in spreading the word- we have just begun to plan this event in the last few days in place of a Housing Committee hearing on another topic.

Assemblywoman Lori Saldana represents the central and northern portion of San Diego in the California State Assembly.

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