Cal Fire crews battling a 1,900-acre brush fire in steep terrain and extreme heat were dealing with more lightning in the area Saturday. Two more fires were also sparked by lightning, according to firefighters.
A Cal Fire official said the lightning was their main concern, but said it's not impeding their efforts to attack the Chihuahua Fire, which is burning along the Palomar Mountain Range, northeast of Warner Springs.
Lightning also sparked two new fires Saturday, according to firefighters.
The "Canyon Fire" was burning on the North side of Palomar Mountain above Oak Grove Road, according to the U.S. Forest Service. No structures were being threatened. The fire had burned about three acres by 6 p.m.
The "Fink Fire" was burning in a remote area of Palomar Mountain and had burned 1.5 acres by 6 p.m., according to the U.S. Forest Service. No structures were being threatened.
The weather conditions were also causing problems elsewhere. The National Weather Service confirmed that throughout Saturday, the county was hit by approximately 550 lightning strikes.
SDG&E said power outages in Ramona, Cleveland National Forest, Live Oak Springs and Jacumba are "suspected to be weather related." The outage in Borrego Springs was initiated for safety per the request of emergency response personnel, according to an SDG&E official.
The Chihuahua Fire, caused by multiple lightning strikes, was sparked Thursday. Strong winds from the thunderstorm helped the fire spread.
Red hot flames turned the night sky orange along State Route 79. An NBC 7 news crew spotted flames as high as 60 feet in the air.
As of 7:30 a.m. Sunday, the Chihuahua Fire was 80-percent contained, Cal Fire officials confirmed.
Firefighters continued to construct 1.5-miles of containment line in the area.
Officials said extreme temperatures combined with low humidity and thunderstorms continued to pose challenges for crews battling the fire.
Cal Fire is looking at a weekend forecast of extremely high temperatures for San Diego's back country.
On Friday, a brief rain shower passed through the area offering a nice respite from the heat, but temperatures reached into the high 90s by early afternoon. Officials said Friday afternoon thundershowers significantly dampened the fire activity.
About 785 firefighters helped battle the flames throughout the course of the Chihuahua Fire. Two firefighters suffered heat-related injuries and at least one of them was airlifted from scene. No other fire-related injuries have been reported.
A mandatory evacuation order was in effect for Chihuahua Valley residents, but Cal Fire lifted evacuation orders for approximately 200 residents by 5 p.m. Saturday.
Deputies first began assisting with evacuations Thursday night after a message went out to Chihuahua Valley residents via Reverse 911/AlertSanDiego telling them to be prepared to evacuate if called upon to do so by deputies.
Joy Pierceall and her husband just built their retirement home on a 20-acre ranch in the area. While she was safely evacuated, her four horses were inside a big paddock at her ranch.
“It’s very heartbreaking because they are my best friends,” she said.
Pierceall was hopeful her husband was able to get past the road closure to rescue the horses.
Chihuahua Valley resident Charlie Chrissy was working as a nurse at a nearby hospital when she got a call about the fire.
She's also concerned about the horses in the area.
“When I got up here, they had already blocked the road off and we can’t get in,” Chrissy said.
Her main concern - lack of water for her 11 horses and six dogs. The power outage shut off water service and she said the horses will drink all available water within 24 hours.
“It’s awful, just thinking about something happening to them because they don’t know to help themselves. They don’t know to break the fence down and run and they’re trapped in pastures and pens, that’s horrible.”
The San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross opened a temporary evacuation point at Warner Springs High School. Another evacuation point for residents’ large animals was set up at Love Acre Ranch at 35490 State Route 79.
No structures have been damaged or destroyed.
A fire has not burned in the area spot recently, so officials say there is plenty of dry brush to continue feeding the fire.
Chihuahua Valley Road remains closed to traffic as firefighters work to extinguish the blaze, which is burning to the east. Residents looking for more information on the “Chihuahua Fire” should call 211.
So far, the estimated cost to battle the fire is $2.6 million, according to officials. Fire crews expect to have the fire fully contained by Monday.
Check back for updates.
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