The Cedar Fire was a human-caused wildfire which burned out of control through a large area of Southern California in October 2003. Driven by Santa Ana Winds, the fire burned 2,820 buildings (including 2,232 homes) and had killed 15 people including one firefighter before being contained on November 3, making it the largest fire in recorded California history. The Cedar Fire was one of 15 fires throughout Southern California that month, including the Old Fire, which became known as the "2003 Firestorm" and the "Fire Siege of 2003."
Initially, winds were moderate and spread of the fire was relatively slow. By midnight only about had burned. However, by that time the winds had shifted and began to increase (easterly "Santa Ana" winds) and the fire began moving quickly westward . Overnight, the fast-moving fire killed 12 people living in Wildcat Canyon and Eucalyptus Hills, in the northern part of Lakeside, who had little or no warning that the fire was approaching, and destroyed 28 homes on the Barona Indian Reservation. In only a few hours the Cedar Fire had pushed southwest over and had burned over at an average rate of per hour and crossed several large highways including I-15. By noon on October 26 the fire was burning hundreds of homes in the Scripps Ranch community of San Diego, and was threatening many others.
The fire forced the evacuation of the main air traffic control facility for San Diego and Los Angeles, shutting down all commercial air traffic in the area and disrupting air traffic across the United States. On October 26, the fire forged into Alpine, Harbison Canyon and Crest burning hundreds more homes in areas that had been devastated by the Laguna Fire 33 years earlier. By October 28, the strong easterly Santa Ana winds died down and the fire turned east consuming another . The entire community of Cuyamaca and most of nearby Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and many homes in the town of Julian were destroyed. On October 29 a fire engine crew who were attempting to defend a house in the Riverwood Estates near Santa Ysabel became entrapped and overrun by the fire. One firefighter was killed and three others were injured, one severely. Full containment was achieved on November 3 and the fire completely controlled on December 5.
The turning away of the Sheriff's helicopters by the Forest Service came under severe attack by the public, media and elected officials, believing that an opportunity to prevent the fire from becoming out of control had been lost. The State has an aviation assets "cutoff" policy which stated that "aircraft (planes or helicopters) may not be dispatched so as to arrive at an incident no later than 30 minutes before sunset". The pilot later claimed he could have made three water drops in the time he had before darkness. However, a study performed by the US Forest Service concluded that even if the helicopter had been able to drop multiple loads of water with direct hits on the flames, the impact on the fire would have been minimal. Cutoff also prevented two air tankers and a helicopter stationed at Ramona Airport from being dispatched to the fire, although the tankers likely could not have been used anyway as the pilots had just spent seven hours fighting another fire, and FAA regulations stipulated that they could not continue to fly.
A contributing factor to the initial lack of aviation resources to fight the fire was the state's "no divert" policy, which allows incident commanders to dedicate certain resources to a particular fire; the policy applied to both airborne aircraft as well as those on the ground awaiting dispatch. At the time that the Cedar Fire started, there were already 11 other fires burning in the region. Aviation resources in the area were currently being held on the ground under a "no divert" declaration, in order to be available for structures' protection on another fire. However, weather and visibility at the other fire was precluding their use, so the aircraft sat idle despite the fact that the conditions were acceptable for their use on the Cedar Fire.
Resources to relieve the initial attack crews did not appear on the fire scene until around 5:00 a.m. PDT on Monday 27 October, since they had to be dispatched from Northern California, which was depleted in its own right, and some were delayed on their way by other fires in the northern region.
Both the media and area elected officials were also critical of the lack of use of military aviation assets which were located nearby at Camp Pendleton and Miramar. The U.S. Marine Corps operates CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters that can carry water-dropping buckets, but existing policies prohibited their use until all other civilian resources were used. Additionally, the military aircraft radios were not compatible with those used by most state and local fire agencies, and the military pilots had not received any training in fire-specific operations.
The California wildfires of October 2007 are a series of wildfires that began burning across Southern California on October 202007, forcing the evacuation of approximately 900,000 residents. At least 1,500 homes were destroyed and around of land have burned from Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border. As of October 24, 16 active fires were burning in the region. Six people have died and at least 70 others have been injured. As of November 9, all active fires have been contained. Compared to the Cedar Fire, rescources were more efficiently used and evacuations were organized much more quickly.