Girl Scouts leading the way in fire prevention in California mountains

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Girl Scouts San Diego is leading the way with new technology that burns away fire fuels at Camp Winacka and Camp Whispering Oaks in Julian.

JULIAN, Calif. — For those who live and work in San Diego’s mountains, fire prevention is often on the mind, especially at Camp Winacka and Camp Whispering Oaks in Julian. That’s where the Girl Scouts San Diego is leading the way with new technology that burns away fire fuels.  

What looks like two large dumpsters in the forest, is actually fire fighting equipment that cost a hefty $1 million, paid for by people’s love of Girl Scout cookies. And that’s money well spent for those whose mission it is to protect this land.

“The San Diego pine and oak trees are in distress and the beetles that have ravaged Cuyamaca have jumped thousands and thousands of trees,” said Eric Williams, the Director of Property at Girl Scouts San Diego.

Dead and dying trees cover this mountain range, “It’s crazy how quick a tree will go from looking healthy to being dead,” Williams said.

If you look at the top of the trees, you’ll see many are drying up and dying. In a couple of months, they will end up like the many other hundred-year-old trees, dead because of the bark beetles. 

To try and prevent further spreading, the trees can’t be removed from the Cuyamaca Mountains, so that’s where the air curtain burners come in.

Heavy machinery loads up large logs that get dumped into the air curtain burners. “As he drops it, you’re going to see the air curtain break a little puff of smoke,” says Williams.

But that’s it, just a little puff.

How does an air curtain burner work?

A diesel engine blasts air at the top of the burner.  That air pressure is so strong it creates a shield, keeping the flames inside, which is why they don’t need covers. The air is the cover.

“Any smoke. any embers, basically get forced back down into the fire. So you get this big swirling action with air and that air hits every piece of wood in this chamber and cooks it at a very, very high temperature,” explains Williams. 

Those temperatures can reach up to 1600 degrees! They created a huge amount of defensible space, but nothing flies out of the burner. Each burner incinerates about 1.5 tons an hour. They can get rid of 14 tons a day. 

So far, the Girl Scouts have destroyed nearly 400 tons of fire fuel in 5 months. This has created about 1400 lbs. of ash that is being put back into the forest as fertilizer.

Williams retired after 26 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, a marine engineer by training, and he joined the Girls Scouts because he saw how much his daughters loved it.

He has spent the past 16 years as their Director of Property trying to prevent fires. “It’s a huge problem in this region. There has not been an answer from the state on what to do with all the wood. You can take the tree down but it’s still fuel on the ground,” he said.

After years of research, working with the manufacturer, and many hurdles, it still took him about 3 years to get permitted from the Air Quality District.

The hope now is to be leaders for others.

Girl Scouts is the only private business in San Diego, that they know of, using air curtain burners.

Since the health of the forest is such a priority, the Girl Scouts San Diego are taking their work one step further. They are building a nursery, and they are going to help oak and pine trees grow from seeds up and plant those back into the forest.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.