As flames from several wildfires whipped through North County this week, Supervisor Bill Horn came forward with a bold suspicion: The blazes may have been started by an arsonist still on the loose.
“I question whether or not six fires haven’t been set by somebody,” Horn said Wednesday at a news conference in Carlsbad. “I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years.”
Horn admitted “it could all be by chance” and said he did not have any evidence that arson was the cause. Fire Captain Kendal Bortisser later said the arson suspicion “did not come from Calfire” and that “the fires are under investigation.”
Horn said early on Thursday, though, that he’s not the only one with that worry, he just “probably spoke up first about it.”
Indeed, arson is often where people’s minds drift when blazes break out. But even if an arsonist did set one or more of the current local fires (10News reported Thursday that an arson suspect in Escondido had been questioned and released), statistics show it’s actually pretty rare for wildfires to be set on purpose with some nefarious aim.
The state’s largest wildfire in history, the Cedar Fire in San Diego County in 2003, was started by a man who eventually argued he was lost and set the blaze in hopes of being found.
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According to the National Park Service website: "As many as 90 percent of wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans." - See more at: http://www.nps.gov/fire/wildland-fire/learning-center/fire-in-depth/wildfire-causes.cfm#sthash.01uvxjXI.dpuf
Incisive chart. Apparently, well over 50% of fires have been caused by those Two Great Dangers: Miscellaneous and Undetermined. I trust CalFire is prioritizing them.
@Joe Jones Agreed. The chart is so incomplete it's almost worthless.
Mr. Horn's typical bloviating detracts from a bigger issue in my view. Two areas of government regulation have apparently (according to numerous firefighting spokespeople) had a major benefit during these fires: Building regulations for new homes to ensure fire protection and defensible space ordinances requiring clear or fire resistant areas around homes. Not only have they reduced the chance of individual homes burning, but they have also reduced the chance that one homeowner's negligence or intransigence will result in a neighboring homeowner's disaster. For those who tend to oppose government regulation, this should be a wake-up call.
Fires are a fact of life in southern California.
Unfortunately we no longer manage these things to prevent this kind of damage to homes and property.
We no longer do controlled burns in late winter.
We no longer plant Iceplant as a barrier.
We make it harder to manage brush because of endangered species choosing nature over people.
As a result we repeat the unnecessary damage.
@Mark Giffin I take issue with a number of your assertions. For example, ice plant is usually not a good barrier, especially sea fig. It looks succulent but if you remove it, you will find a huge amount of dead material under the green top. It will burn and worse will smolder, drying an area and then igniting it. It also destabilizes steep slopes because it is very heavy on the top but has shallow roots. Much of people's opinions about wildfire is based on belief not fact.
@Janet Shelton @Mark Giffin
Actually Janet Sea fig is a good example. It is a classic example of a maligned species simply based on the fact it is non-native. The push, and codes, prefer natural fuels rather than material suited as a fire barrier.
It was used extensively in the 50 and 60s for just that purpose...as a fire barrier and for erosion control.
It has the advantages of low water,low nutrients and its tolerance to salt. In addition is grows flat along the ground While it can have the undergrowth as you suggest it will in fact stop a raging fire in it tracks. The weight can be a problem but is of minor concern in most situations.
btw and fwiw I have a masters in Agricultural science.
@Mark Giffin I have that information from people who have similar backgrounds to yours and my own observation that sea fig burned when the fires passed through here in 2007. I looked for studies and didn't turn one up. Maybe you know one. But in reflecting on this, I think it's probably the wrong debate. Studies have been done which say that the most important factor is siting of homes and defensible space around them. In my area, the houses that burned were placed in bad locations, in the saddle that faces east between a mountain and a large hill and on a wildland interfce. I think planning is probably a more important factor in the loss of home. That and defensible space, working from the center of one's home and outward.
@Mark Giffin I can show you pictures from past fires of destroyed houses surrounded by ice plant. Defensible space is necessary but not sufficient. Many of the houses that burned in Rancho Bernardo in the 2007 fire were not even next to open space. They probably burned because wind-blown embers penetrated the attic and started the house on fire from the inside. The sole focus on "brush control" to protect home is entirely misplaced unless you're willing to live in a sea of unbroken asphalt.
You know as well I do that in a fire Storm all bets are off.
Doesn't matter if it is iceplant or natives are there at that junctur.
That is where the brush management (firebreaks) and controlled burns come into play.
The local ecology includes wildfires yet with the absence of fuel reduction (controlled burns) or firebreaks (bulldozed). Instead we let the fuels build up to the explosive state
These were normal when I grew up in north county. Ilfe and property were more important.
Now policy favors doing nothing like that anymore on the basis of the "environment" so we wash rinse repeat rather than being aggressively proactive and as a result we repeat the unnecessary damage
we've been warned for months that the lack of rain was going to cause issue. I just don't think anyone was expecting this weather and these winds in May. My heart goes out to those impacted. The loss is horrific
Normally you would likely be correct, but considering that we had nine fires start up in one day I think the odds are that we have an arsonist on the loose.
And just a coincidence that there is very little property damage and no crispy citizens.