This may be Julian’s prettiest time of year, with rolling green hills and wildflowers in bloom from recent rains.
Backcountry residents — especially those who have lived through multiple wildfires and evacuations — know,
however, that it is just a matter of time before the dry hot summer turns the landscape into a potential tinderbox.
Local firefighting organizations are busy all year long, working to protect life and property and laying the groundwork that increases the odds that an emergency situation will not become a tragedy.
Fire Chief Rick Marinelli of the Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District reports on the progress of the new fire station, new equipment and resources, and what residents can do to protect themselves and their homes in an emergency.
Plans have been drawn and a loan has been waiting at the bank, while the process to build the new JCFPD fire station slowly works its way from concept to completion. At the Julian Library, project architect Jeff Katz opened sealed bids from seven contractors seeking a shot at building the new firehouse.
The station’s design had already been determined, and the competing bidders each prepared their proposals using the same criteria and with equal access to information regarding the project.
The highest bid came in at $3,888,764, and the lowest was $2,036,873, with others at $2.5 to $2.2 million. Law requires that the contract be offered to the lowest qualified bidder. After announcing the bids, Katz then reviewed each bid to eliminate any if they did not meet qualifications before making his recommendation to the JCFPD Board on May 10.
Since the lowest bid was also a qualified bid, it was the only bid presented to the board, which voted to award the contract to Southwest Construction Services of Lakeside. Owners Sam Smith and Dan Smith are well established in the region as fourth-generation residents of Lakeside and the third generation in the construction business. The long list of their projects includes government buildings, hospitals, and private and commercial construction. The next step is to draw up the contract, with work set to begin sometime in June.
Meanwhile, an agreement among the San Diego County Fire Authority, the JCFPD and Cal Fire recently put an extra structure fire engine, staffed with a paramedic, at the Cal Fire station on Highway 78. This addition, at county expense, means an increase in around-the-clock availability of firefighting resources and advanced life support (ALS) services for residents and visitors to the backcountry. ALS services include administering medications and IV fluids, and emergency cardiac care. Six professional Cal Fire firefighters will staff the new engine, including at least one paramedic, two fire apparatus engineers, and three firefighter paramedics. Two or more will be on duty around the clock, with at least one qualified as a paramedic.
In September, the department is set to receive a brand-new ambulance. The $200,000 vehicle has been ordered and is being built for the local station with lots of bells and whistles, including an automatic chain system so the vehicle can easily navigate the varying weather and road conditions typical to Julian. In addition to the new ambulance, the department has purchased a used ambulance from the Borrego Fire Protection District at a cost of $4,000. This vehicle, currently being refurbished with new tires and radios, will be a backup ambulance. The two ambulances currently in service will be returned to the county when they are replaced with the locally owned vehicles. The ambulance program at JCFPD, which is in its third year of a six-year contract with the county EMS for advanced life support, responds to some 500 to 600 calls per year.
Where many folks see the beauty of the blooming wildflowers and green hills as they look out at Julian’s vistas, Marinelli knows that by summer’s end, the brown and brittle vegetation is an inevitable fire risk. According to Marinelli, now is the best time to get clearing work done, before the vegetation turns brown and sparks from operating machinery increase the risk of starting a wildfire, and before Cal Fire begins issuing non-compliance notices in June.
“Don’t wait until it gets too hot to start weed whacking and create that defensible space,” he says.
Another advantage of clearing early in the season is the chance to get free or low-cost assistance with chipping or creating the mandated 100 feet of defensible space. Fire safe councils offer this help on a first-come, first-served basis to those who apply.
The websites below offer information about being ready for wildfires and other emergencies.
In addition, www.firesafesdcounty.org provides education and information about fire prevention and safety, including details on a no-cost chipping program and defensible space assistance for low-income seniors and disabled residents.
Those without computer or Internet access may visit the Julian Library at 1850 Highway 78, where computers are available at no charge.