Hero of Cedar Fire Running for Supervisor
Ramona Home Journal (2008-01) Ea Barrera
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Hero of Cedar Fire Running for Supervisor
By E.A. Barrera
Burned in the Cedar Fire, Reyes wants to help the people who were good to him. Photo By E.A. Barrera
Rudy Reyes shows a determination to turn a tragedy into a triumph.
Now 30 years old, the 1995 graduate of El Capitan High School in Lakeside was severely burned during the 2003 Cedar Fire. He and his family - who live on Wildcat Canyon Road near the Barona Indian Reservation - managed to escape the fires alive. But Rudy made sure his mother and the others made it out first. By the time he was ready to leave and tried to start his car, the smoke and heat of the fire were too much and the engine would not start.
Rudy tried to make a dash through the blaze on foot. An athlete all his life, he was a strong runner. He jumped into the shower, doused himself and his clothing with water, and made the run for his life.
While he escaped alive, the heat and flames were too much and almost 70 percent of his body was burned. He lost his left ear, one finger on his left hand, was temporarily blind and his skin was badly scarred. He has gone through 28 surgeries to repair the damage, regaining his eyesight through a procedure donated by ophthalmologist Richard Leung and the doctors of Scripps Memorial Hospital's Mericos Eye Institute.
So when the recent Witch Creek fire struck almost four years to the week of the Cedar Fire, causing residents along Wildcat Canyon Road, Lakeside and Ramona to evacuate their homes, Reyes was infuriated by the similar problems he saw with stopping the Cedar fire. He said the county was ill-prepared for the fires and had done little to improve conditions in the four years since he was injured.
"Other than the reverse 9-1-1 calls, which were a good thing, there was no preparation and leadership from the County Board of Supervisors on creating better defenses for the people of San Diego against major fires like the last two," said Reyes.
Reyes has decided to challenge incumbent Supervisor Dianne Jacob in next year's election.
His criticism of the supervisors - and Jacob in particular - revolves around what he sees as delaying tactics in the development of a countywide fire department. He also questions the supervisor's refusal to implement 1996's Proposition 215, which gives burn victims and others suffering from chronic pain the right in California to use medically prescribed marijuana. Reyes also thinks it's time for the supervisor to end her 16-year stint on the board.
"She has done some good things and this is not personal. I like her personally. But she has been on that board since 1992. All five of the Supervisors have sat together on the board for more than a decade. They have grown unresponsive to new ideas and the needs of the people. The county needs some fresh blood," said Reyes.
Reyes also says supervisors balked at controlled burns and using inmates from local jails to eliminate excessive weeds and brush, which fueled the fires. He says supervisors also have not stopped the development in areas known to be vulnerable to wildfires.
"They blatantly ignored the need to spend more money for fire protection. We should have had more helicopters ready. We should have had more firefighting personnel.
"No emergency access roads in the backcountry have been built to evacuate people during a fire. People trying to get out of Ramona last time were stuck in traffic for hours because there was only one way in and out of the San Diego Country Estates."
"I am a life-long resident of this county. When I was hurt, the people of this county were good to me and now I want to return the favor.
"I want to serve their interests and not the special interests and I want to make sure that when the next fires strike, we will be ready. I want to help make sure that when voters pass a law that says a doctor can prescribe medication for pain, the supervisors won't waste time and money that could be used preparing us for future wildfires, trying to ban pain medication in this county," said Reyes.