San Diego Homes Are Still at Risk From Wildfires

SAN DIEGO --

Four years after the devastating Witch Fire, some San Diego firefighters told 10News tens of thousands of homes are still at risk.

On this day in 2007, smoke shrouded the sun as the Witch Fire destroyed more than 1,100 homes in San Diego County.

In 2003, the Cedar Fire charred nearly 200,000 acres, forcing residents like Deirdre Kleske to evacuate their homes.

"We woke up on a Sunday morning and the sky was orange. I knew something was wrong," said Kleske.

Since the 2003 and 2007 fires, local firefighters have boosted preventative efforts, including implementing door-to-door inspections in the last three years for more than 42,000 homes in high-risk areas within San Diego city limits.

The inspections check for 100 feet of defensible space around homes and yards, including dry leaves on roofs and gutters. Fire officials said unmaintained yards contributed to the Witch Fire's destruction.

"Embers were flying a mile, mile-and-half away from the main fire and landing on homes with leaves on them or backyards that weren't maintained," said Eddie Villavicencio, San Diego Fire-Rescue deputy fire marshal.

There have been 341 vegetation fires so far this year, an increase of 22 from last year. That's just one reason why crews are working hard to clear the city of fire hazards like dead branches.

"Previously, we had up to 40 percent of homes found to be in violation. In our previous inspection area, we found a little over 6 percent to 7 percent were in violation," said Villavicencio

After a third non-compliance, residents face a $350 fine.

Even though more than 90 percent of residents comply, Villavicencio said it takes 100 percent to make sure the city is safer now than it was four years ago.

"If one or two owners don't, the fire's going to take the path of least resistance," said Villavicencio

Kleske knows it, and she said she has her car packed and is ready for anything.

"The firefighters can do the best they can do, but it's up to all of us to be prepared too so we can help them," said Kleske.

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