The hikers were lucky to escape with their lives.
Light winds were helping crews slowly surround a wildfire on Sunday that trapped a pair of hikers and eight people in a cabin and burned big swathes of rural land near Lakeside.
"Things have died down," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Carlton Joseph.
But fighting this fire has had its challenges.
"We're talking extremely steep slopes. Loose footing, rolling rocks, boulders. Just some real tough ground that poses some severe safety issues in some cases," Chief Joseph said.
The fire, burning on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest, was holding at 1,047 acres Sunday and was ten percent contained. Cal Fire originally reported the acreage at 3,000, but later cited a miscommunication.
The fire started on the north side of El Monte Rd. and was first reported at 1:02 p.m. By 6.16 p.m. Saturday the spread of the fire had been stopped.
Temperatures were in the mid-90s and humidity in the twenties in the area amid a summer where temperatures have so far been unusually mild and big fires rare. Firefighters said this weekend's conditions were more typical of August.
Full containment and control of the fire is expected Monday. Two firefighters had minor injuries, a bee sting and a twisted ankle, Cal Fire spokesperson Roxanne Provaznik said.
The cause of the fire is being investigated. The cost to fight it is estimated at $350,000.
Homes, Parks Evacuated
The fire forced the evacuation of visitors to El Capitan Reservoir and El Monte Park and briefly threatened homes, 12 of which were evacuated, according to firefighters.
El Monte County Park remained closed Sunday and the El Capitan Reservoir was off limits to boaters.
Ten People Plucked From the Fire's Path
A sheriff's helicopter was sent to rescue ten people on Saturday, including two hikers who were stuck on a rock wall on El Captain Mountain. Andre Doria and his hiking partner Meg went for a day of multi pitch climbing on El Cajon Mountain. They were having lunch when they noticed the smoke.
“We called 911 and they said ‘yeah we know about this fire'," Doria said.
Within 20 minutes the fire had spread to several acres.
“It came up the mountain face and we were going to start rapelling down and try to get to a safe area for the airlift to come. By the time we got to the repel anchors, the fire was just so smoky where we were that we decided it was best to just keep going up,” Doria said.
Fortunately the wind came in and blew a lot of the smoke away and the helicopters were able to find them.
Just in time.
“It was dicey, because when the airlift came, the fire came over the ridge to us and it was probably about 50 feet from us,” Doria said. “They came down with their chopper and they couldn’t land right on the mountain, but they came close enough we were able to step into the chopper.”
He says nothing like this has ever happened to him before.
“I’ve never been that close to a fire that large and been in such a position where I’m just completely at its mercy and fortunately this people who airlifted us out found us soon enough. I mean it was down to the last second there,” Doria said. “It was intense. Amazing. We are very blessed to have those people.”
Doria and Meg got out safety, but $2,000 worth of their hiking gear did not.
“I was told that my bags were on fire,” Meg said. “It was a lot closer than I would ever want to cut something, ever again.”
The hikers had some advice for fellow hikers.
“Everybody should, if they go out, always carry a cell phone. Had we not had a cell phone, they wouldn’t have known we were up there and fortunately we had reception so we were able to call 911,” Doria said.
This map of the area that burned was provided by the U.S. Forest Service.
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