Fire Destroys Homes, Burns Hundreds Of Acres In Alpine
West Fire Evacuation Centers
– Los Coches Creek Middle School, 9669 Dunbar Lane (permanent)
– Viejas Casino, 5000 Willows Road (temporary)
UPDATE: 4:53 p.m., July 6, 2018
A fast-moving East County wildfire leveled homes, burned hundreds of acres and forced evacuations Friday while tearing through rural neighborhoods near Viejas Casino amid a blistering heat wave.
The fire erupted for unknown reasons about 11:15 a.m. in triple-digit temperatures, alongside eastbound Interstate 8 at West Willows Road in Alpine, according to Cleveland National Forest officials.
The heat- and wind-stoked flames soon reached a "critical" rate of spread, Cal Fire reported.
In the early afternoon, live television news footage showed large tile- roofed homes and what appeared to be residential trailers and small outbuildings engulfed in fire. Dozens of structures appeared to have been gutted. Cal Fire officials, for their part, reported that "numerous" dwellings and other edifices had been lost.
Crews from various local agencies were attacking the blaze on the ground and aboard water- and retardant-dropping aircraft in midday heat measured by the National Weather Service at 108 degrees.
"We are fighting this fire from the air and ground,” said Cal Fire spokesman Kendal Bortisser. "The average firefighter is carrying about 75 pounds of gear while combating fires. When you combine high humidity and high temperatures, it puts a toll on the firefighters, regardless of what kind of shape they are in."
Sheriff's deputies urged residents of Alpine Oaks Estates and areas south of the intersection of Alpine Boulevard and South Grade Road to clear out of their homes immediately.
The American Red Cross set up an overnight evacuation site at Los Coches Creek Middle School on Dunbar Lane, and a temporary shelter was established in a parking lot at Viejas Casino. Lakeside Rodeo on Mapleview Street was providing room for livestock of residents in threatened neighborhoods.
About 1:30 p.m., the California Highway Patrol blocked off two of the three lanes of eastbound I-8 in the area as crews worked to subdue the blaze, dubbed the West Fire.
Authorities also closed various neighborhood streets in the area, including Alpine Boulevard between Tavern Road and West Willows Road; Arnold Way between Tavern Road and Alpine Boulevard; South Grade Road between Tavern Road and Alpine Boulevard; Tavern Road at Dehesa Road; and the Willow Road offramp from eastbound I-8, near the origin point of the blaze.
By 4 p.m., firefighters had the roughly 400-acre burn area about 5 percent contained, and all lanes of the nearby freeway were open again. An hour later, crews had the spread of the flames halted.
"The danger of the fire was elevated. We have easterly winds and that is what's causing it to be so hot. The conditions throughout the weekend will be critical,” said Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “We are in a new age of extreme weather and we are seeing more fires in the winter, spring, summer and fall."
One crew member suffered minor burn injuries to his face while battling the blaze, Cal Fire reported. He was expected to remain hospitalized overnight.
No other injuries had been reported by late afternoon.
Eric Frost, director of the Visualization Center at the SDSU Department of Geological Sciences, said firefighters can expect weather conditions to improve later in the evening.
At the height of the blaze, about 3,500 homes and businesses at and around the site of the wildfire were without power, according to San Diego Gas & Electric. Some of those addresses are served by a circuit that the utility decided to deactivate as a precaution, and the rest lost service due to fire- related equipment damage, SDG&E spokesman Wes Jones said.
As of 3:45 p.m., repair crews had restored power to about 1,500 of the affected customers, Jones said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story said sheriff’s deputies urged residents of Highland Mobile Home Park to leave. This is incorrect. The correct location is Alpine Oaks Estates.