Fires continue to threaten rural East County communities

RANCHITA (CNS) – Residents in Ranchita were under mandatory evacuation orders for the second consecutive day Thursday as wildfires threatened about 400 structures in the rural East County community, but previously evacuated San Felipe residents were back in their homes.

Lightning sparked a total of six brush fires in the area since Sunday night, including two that were only partially contained as of 6:30 a.m., according to Cal Fire. Three of the six were 100 percent contained by Tuesday night, and the sixth was 100 percent contained early today.

Cal Fire dubbed the six-blaze cluster the Vallecito Lightning Complex, consisting of the Vallecito, Wilson, Stewart, Cooper, Wynola and Shoots fires. Combined, the fires have blackened about 15,525 acres, Cal Fire reported.

The spread of the Vallecito Fire, southeast of Julian, was stopped at 519 acres, while the Cooper Fire, northeast of Julian, and the Wynola Fire, at Highway 79 and Wynola, were each halted at three acres.

The Stewart Fire had charred 7,000 acres and was 50 percent contained as of this morning, and the Wilson Fire was at 8,000 acres and 65 percent containment, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said, noting the two fires were close to merging.

The Shoots Fire, fire reported by Cal Fire this morning, burned briefly, scorching less than an acre of East County brush before being halted, according to the state firefighting agency.

A total of 1,454 firefighters were battling the fires from the ground and the air, using 77 fire engines, 48 fire crews, five helicopters, eight bulldozers and 28 water tenders, Cal Fire reported.

On Wednesday, flight crews from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar answered a call from Cal Fire to join in the effort to subdue the blazes. The northern San Diego USMC base sent eight helicopters — CH-53 Super Stallions and CH-46 Sea Knights — to help shuttle personnel to the fire lines and make water drops.

Though no structure losses were reported as of early today, two firefighters were injured. Cal Fire reported that one of the firefighters suffered from heat exhaustion. The nature of the other injury was unclear, though authorities described it as minor.

A makeshift shelter was set up at Warner Springs High School for evacuees, who were told via the county's “reverse 911” emergency information system late Tuesday afternoon to leave their homes. San Felipe residents were part of the original evacuation area but Cal Fire this morning reported that the order was lifted for those residents.

Road and highway closures between Borrego Springs, Julian and Ranchita were in effect due to the fires.

Members of the public with questions about the evacuations or road closures were encouraged to call the Cal Fire information line at (619) 590- 3160 or follow the agency's progress via Twitter, at calfiresandiego.


Categories: KUSI