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SD Chariot Fire

MOUNT LAGUNA (CNS) - Thousands of ground and airborne personnel worked today to finish off a largely extinguished East County highland wildfire that charred about 7,055 acres and destroyed scores of mountain cabins and other structures southeast of Julian.

By early this evening, the smoldering remnants of the four-day-old blaze near Mount Laguna were roughly 65 percent surrounded, according to Cal Fire, which predicted full containment by Sunday.

Increasing humidity levels have been a boon for the roughly 2,100 personnel dousing the lingering hot spots on foot and aboard water-dropping helicopters and air tankers dispensing powdery flame retardant, the state agency reported.

At 6 p.m., authorities lifted some evacuation orders that had been in effect for several days, allowing the public to return to areas south of Los Huecos Road. However, locales as far north as Kwaaymii Point remained off-limits until further notice.

An American Red Cross emergency shelter at Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine remained available for displaced residents.

Though little to no active flame persisted, the Chariot Fire was still considered a potential threat to some rural homes, as well as Foster Lodge and the Laguna, El Prado and Horse Heaven campgrounds, officials said.

While sweeping over wilderness and recreation areas southeast of Lake Cuyamaca, the fire leveled an estimated 120 structures, many of them campground cabins, and left five firefighters with heat exhaustion and other minor injuries.

The fire erupted for unknown reasons early Saturday afternoon near Chariot Mountain. Authorities cleared everyone out of 20 structures in the path of the flames Sunday night and from 100 others the next morning.

The fire made a strong push across Sunrise Highway from the east on Monday and tore through Al Bahr Shrine Camp, gutting a lodge, social hall and about 10 cottages -- all log structures built in the 1920s -- along with 85 or more trailers that had been converted into vacation cabins.

Assisting Cal Fire in battling the blaze, handling evacuations and working road closures were the U.S. Forest Service; California Highway Patrol and State Parks; and San Diego County Fire Authority and Sheriff's Department.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

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