Valley Fire Grows To Over 17,000 Acres, New Evacuations Ordered
UPDATE: 8:11 a.m., Sept. 8, 2020:
The Valley Fire in Japatul Valley near Alpine continued to burn on Labor Day, scorching 17,345 acres with just 3% containment, and causing four new evacuation orders, authorities reported Monday evening.
The fire was largely burning out of control overnight, bolstered by wind gusts of up to 25 mph. The blaze grew in the Lawson Valley and Carveacre areas, and posed an immediate threat to Loveland Reservoir and the surrounding areas, Cal Fire reported Monday morning.
A new evacuation order for Corte Madera, south of Pine Valley went into effect Monday afternoon, Cal Fire reported. The mandate followed Monday morning evacuation orders for Corral Canyon off-road area, Bob Cat Meadows and Los Pinos.
The U.S. Forest Service also announced the closure of many national forests due to the ongoing statewide fire danger, including Cleveland National Forest. The park will close at 5 p.m. Monday, and the order will be re- evaluated daily as conditions change.
Officials were forecasting cooler and lighter winds Monday that might decrease the spread of fire, yet Santa Ana winds expected Tuesday will likely spread the blaze, with 40 mph gusts through Wednesday, according to Cal Fire.
Structures were being threatened in Carveacre, Lawson Valley, Wood Valley, Lyons Valley, Deer Horn Valley and Sycuan Indian Reservation, Cal Fire San Diego said. So far, 11 buildings have been destroyed, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Due to the amount of acreage burned, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for San Diego County. The declaration will free up federal funds to be used in response to this and other fires.
The blaze began burning around 2:15 p.m. Saturday off Spirit Trail and Japatul Road.
Cal Fire reported that 374 firefighters were on the ground battling the fire as of Sunday evening, and resources included four bulldozers and five water tenders.
#valleyfire 09/07/20 Information map for the Valley Fire pic.twitter.com/GD9WEeT2CG— Cleveland NF (@ClevelandNF) September 7, 2020
The Orange County Fire Authority dispatched a "strike team" of five fire engines and two battalion chiefs to assist their southern colleagues on Saturday, joining crews from the Cleveland National Forest and Cal Fire.
"Firefighters are working against extreme fire behavior with wind-driven runs and long-range spotting," the agency said.
As of Monday morning, San Diego Gas & Electric reported power outages affecting 3,382 customers in the fire area.
Communities affected when the Valley Fire damaged the electric system were Dulzura, Potrero, Campo, Jamul, North Jamul, West Jamul, Lyons Valley, Barrett Lake, Dehesa, Alpine, West Alpine, Rancho Palo Verde, Harbison Canyon, Glen Oaks, Jamacha and Indian Springs. Power was not expected to be restored until noon Tuesday, SDG&E reported.
The utility said it has crews staged at the site of the fire and will work to restore power once Cal Fire determines it is safe to enter the area.
The San Diego County Pollution Control District issued a smoke advisory Sunday, saying air quality levels were unhealthy in areas of heavy smoke.
"Due to the Valley Fire burning near Alpine in San Diego County, areas of smoke are affecting parts of the county," district officials said. "The smoke continues to disperse above ground level away from the immediate area of the fire and is generally blowing toward the west-northwest as of Sunday afternoon. Smoke impacts are likely in areas near the fire, where fine particulates may reach unhealthful levels.
"In areas of heavy smoke, assume that air quality levels are unhealthy for sensitive groups to unhealthy for all individuals. In areas with minor smoke impacts, assume that air quality levels range from moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups."
Meteorological conditions were expected to improve air quality and shift the trajectory of the smoke toward the east and northeast on Monday, pollution control officials said.
"In areas where you smell smoke it is advised that you limit physical and outdoor activity," officials said. "If possible, stay indoors to limit your exposure to fine particulate matter and ozone, especially those residents with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children."
About 4 p.m. Saturday, Cal Fire said the community of Carveacre Road was threatened and under evacuation orders. An hour later, an evacuation order was issued for all of Lawson Valley. Both evacuation orders remain. As of Sunday evening, an evacuation order was in affect for Barrett Lake Dam, according to Cal Fire. The fire front was one-mile long, according to Southern California Air Operations.
Since Saturday, the Red Cross has served hot meals and water to evacuees at its temporary evacuation centers at Joan MacQueen Middle School and Steele Canyon High School. The pandemic, however, has complicated relief efforts.
Volunteer nurses are conducting temperature checks and health screenings for everyone entering the gymnasium.
“Our volunteer staff and paid staff are trained to make sure we help people stay safe health-wise, as well as get the relief and support that they need,” said Andrea Fuller, a volunteer public information officer for the Red Cross.
Unable to safely house evacuees at Joan MacQueen Middle School’s gymnasium, the Red Cross partnered with local motels and hotels to provide overnight shelter. It has also partnered with the Humane Society to house pets and larger animals.
Evacuees recounted their harrowing escapes with their animals.
“I got my trailer out, got the dogs in the truck, got the cat in, grabbed food and prayed that the horses would load because at this point the flames were right in my backyard, and they basically surrounded us,” said Danielle Belliveau, an Alpine resident.
A temporary evacuation point for large animals is the County Animal Services South Shelter at 5821 Sweetwater Road in Bonita. Contact county animal services at 619-236-2341. Residents who need help to evacuate animals from the brushfire can call the San Diego Humane Society at 619-299-7012 (press 1).
The cause of the Valley Fire is under investigation, Cal Fire said.