Valley Fire chars thousands of acres, planned power outages possible in Eastern San Diego County
JAPATUL VALLEY (KUSI) – Firefighters battled for a fourth day Tuesday to subdue a Santa Ana-driven wildfire that blackened thousands of acres in rural eastern San Diego County over the Labor Day weekend, leveling about a dozen homes and forcing widespread evacuations.
The blaze erupted for unknown reasons early Saturday afternoon off Spirit Trail in Japatul Valley, near Alpine, according to Cal Fire. As of this morning, the flames had spread over an estimated 17,345 acres and destroyed at least 11 residences and 25 outbuildings, the state agency reported.
As Santa Ana winds continued to stoke a wildfire that has blackened thousands of acres in rural communities near Alpine, San Diego Gas & Electric notified back-country residents Tuesday that it may have to turn off their power intermittently over the next several days to reduce wildfire risk.
The utility has notified about 16,700 customers in areas surrounding the out-of-control blaze in Japatul Valley to be prepared for electrical- service shutoffs through Thursday.
Potentially affected communities include parts of Alpine, Barrett Lake, Buckman Springs, Campo, Dehesa, Dulzura, Jamul, Lyons Valley, Morena Village, Potrero and Rancho Palo Verde.
A National Weather Service “red-flag” wildfire warning is slated to be in effect in the county through 8 p.m. Wednesday. The alert signifies a likelihood of critical combustion hazards that can lead to “extreme fire behavior.”
Dry, whipping winds out of the east have made efforts to control the out-of-control East County blaze, dubbed the Valley Fire, particularly challenging. By early Tuesday afternoon, the fire had scorched an estimated 17,345 acres and destroyed at least 11 residences and 25 outbuildings, and was only 3% contained, according to Cal Fire.
“It’s supposed to really kick off this afternoon,” Cal Fire Capt. Thomas Shoots said of the dangerously arid, hot and gusty conditions prevailing in the county.
The fire has resulted in two injuries, authorities said. It was not immediately clear if the victims were firefighters or civilians.
By early Tuesday afternoon, the fire was still only 3% contained.
Evacuation orders were in effect for Barrett Lake Dam, the Corte Madera area and South Pine Valley.
Evacuation warnings were in effect for Lake Morena, Dulzura, Dog Patch, Potrero, Campo, Honey Springs, Barrett Junction, Deerhorn Valley, and the area from Lyons/Japatul Road to Interstate 8.
Shelters for the displaced were available at Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine and at Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley. A shelter for livestock was in operation at a County Animal Services shelter on Sweetwater Road in Bonita.
The U.S. Forest Service closed Cleveland National Forest indefinitely to keep the public out of harm’s way. Eight national forests were closed across California due to ongoing fire danger, including Angeles National Forest, San Bernardino National Forest, Los Padres National Forest, Inyo National Forest, Sequoia National Forest, Sierra National Forest and Stanislaus National Forest.
Among the imminently threatened communities in San Diego County were the back-country towns of Carveacre, Lawson Valley, Wood Valley, Lyons Valley and Deer Horn Valley, as well as Sycuan Indian Reservation.
As of Tuesday morning, SDG&E reported power outages affecting 2,258 customers in the fire area, including parts of Dulzura, Potrero, Campo, Jamul, North Jamul, Lyons Valley, Barrett Lake, Dehesa, Alpine, Rancho Palo Verde, Buckman Springs and Morena Village.
As the inferno spread, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for San Diego County, freeing up federal relief funds. The San Diego County Pollution Control District issued an alert, stating that air quality levels were unhealthy in parts of the region due to the conflagration. The agency advised people to limit outdoor activities until the smoky conditions dissipate.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.