Valley Fire At 17,565 Acres And 11% Contained, Firefighting Efforts Continue
UPDATE: 5:26 p.m., Sept. 9, 2020
Firefighters labored for a fifth day today to subdue a wildfire that has blackened thousands of acres in rural eastern San Diego County, leveling several dozen homes and outbuildings and forcing widespread evacuations.
The blaze, dubbed the Valley Fire, erupted for unknown reasons early Saturday afternoon off Spirit Trail and Carveacre Road in Japatul Valley, southeast of Alpine, according to Cal Fire.
As of midday Wednesday, the wind-driven inferno remained at an estimated 17,565 acres and was 11% contained, the state agency reported. The blaze has destroyed 20 "habitable structures" and 17 "minor structures" and resulted in two injuries, though it was not clear if the victims were firefighters or civilians.
Gusty winds stoked the flames burning within established fire lines during the night, but the Santa Ana conditions — strong, warm and dry air currents blowing from east to west — did not intensify as much as meteorologists predicted they might, Cal Fire reported. As a result, humidity levels around the blaze remained high, aiding the firefighting effort.
A National Weather Service "red flag" wildfire warning — a public alert about potential or ongoing critical combustion hazards — is slated to remain in effect through 8 tonight, though the agency advised that it might be lifted "a few hours early" due to improving atmospheric conditions.
Gusts recorded overnight reached 54 mph at Sill Hill, 49 mph in Alpine, 47 mph in Hellhole Canyon, and 44 mph in Buckman Springs and Boulder Creek, according to the NWS.
Among the imminently threatened local communities were the back- country towns of Carveacre, Lawson Valley, Wood Valley, Lyons Valley and Deer Horn Valley, as well as Sycuan Indian Reservation.
Evacuation orders were in effect for Carveacre, Corte Madera Ranch, Japatul Valley, Lawson Valley, Lyons Valley and WiseCarver. In Descanso and Pine Valley, residents were advised to prepare to clear out of their homes on short notice if the flames begin closing in on their neighborhoods.
Residents in Alpine, Barrett Junction, Dulzura, Potrero and Viejas were cautioned Tuesday afternoon to prepare for potential evacuations, but those warnings were canceled this morning.
Shelters for the displaced were available at two high schools — Steele Canyon in Spring Valley and El Capitan in Lakeside, the latter of which also was accepting pets, according to the San Diego Humane Society.
Lakeside Rodeo Arena was available to shelter horses, and residents in need of a safe place to board their pets or livestock until the wildfire is extinguished were advised to make use of one of two San Diego County Animal Services shelters, in Bonita and Spring Valley.
On Tuesday afternoon, San Diego Gas & Electric advised about 16,700 of its East County customers that public-safety power outages might become necessary due to the potential for weather-related utility combustion hazards. Overnight, SDG&E shut off electrical service to 49 addresses in Descanso. Following inspections of its transmission equipment in the community, the utility restored power to those locations late this morning.
Unplanned fire-related power outages, however, kept about 1,700 addresses in the vicinity of the blaze without electrical service this afternoon, and possibly for several more days, according to SDG&E.
"Providing an exact estimate on when power might be restored is extremely difficult until crews gain full access to the area to assess damage and determine what repairs are necessary to ensure safe operation of the system," the utility advised at midday.
Due to smoke drifting over much of the county due to the blaze, the San Diego County Pollution Control District advised that air-quality levels were unhealthy in parts of the region and advised people to limit outdoor activities until conditions improve.
Among road closures stemming from the wildfire were sections of Japatul Road, Japatul Valley Road, Lawson Valley Road, Skyline Truck Trail, Wisecarver Lane and Wisecarver Truck Trail, the county Sheriff's Department reported.
The U.S. Forest Service, for its part, temporarily closed Cleveland National Forest to the public along with the 17 other federal wilderness preserves in California in response to the "unprecedented and historic fire conditions throughout the state."
As the Valley Fire spread, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for San Diego County, a move intended to free up federal relief funds.