Relative potential for a hard-to-suppress fire in San Diego County. U.S. Forest Service/ESRI
Relative potential for a hard-to-suppress fire in San Diego County. U.S. Forest Service/ESRI

More than half the land in San Diego County – including neighborhoods reaching almost to the ocean and densely settled foothill cities – is at high or very high potential for difficult-to-control fire. The data is gleaned from maps prepared by the U.S. Forest Service.

News in Numbers


Even for a region steeped in the ways of defensible space and brush clearance, the map is sobering.

Almost a quarter of all terrain in the county falls into the highest hazard potential category, colored red on the map.

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That includes the area west of Interstate 15 near Escondido and Los Peñasquitos Canyon Reserve, just two miles from the ocean northeast to state Route 56; Mission Trails Regional Park; much of the city of Santee; the lands of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation; Brown Field Municipal Airport and lower Otay Mesa on the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of the vast arc of land between Fallbrook and Borrego Springs is also red.

In addition, 29 percent of the county is in the next highest risk fire category, colored orange. This includes a six-mile radius around Ramona, all of Camp Pendleton, the land east of Poway, part of the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and the land east of Bonita.

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Devastating fires struck the San Diego area in 2007. Fire officials asked half a million people, from Oceanside to Chula Vista, to evacuate. The Witch Creek fire alone that year burned almost 200,000 acres.

The Forest Service Fire Modeling Institute prepared the map. It’s not intended to be exact. But paired with population, building and power line information, it’s a tool to gauge fire risk. inewsource asked the geographic information firm ESRI to analyze the color data, which generated the percentages.

Ingrid Lobet is a reporter at inewsource specializing in the environment. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email

3 replies on “Stark fire vulnerability in San Diego County”

  1. Despite these facts, elected officials continue to expand the “urban-wildland interface” by approving more and more subdivisions in hazard zones.

  2. While I don’t believe in “security through obscurity” , isn’t the inclusion of a nifty, detailed, color-enhanced map just a good way to show an arsonist the ideal location to start a fire that will do the most damage to people and property?

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