After two days of braving rocky terrain and high heat, more than 200 firefighters have fully contained a 170-acre brush fire that burned on the Barona Indian Reservation.
The fire began shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday at the 14000 block of Wildcat Canyon Road near Barona Casino and Akuunyaa Way on the southeast corner of the reservation, spreading at a moderate rate of speed.
At 5:50 p.m. Friday, it was 100 percent contained, Cal Fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser said.
He said about 200 to 260 firefighters were working to tackle the blaze. Fire crews had been working diligently overnight using head lamps, though the darkness of nightfall still proved challenging.
When the fire first sparked it was burning at a medium to rapid rate of speed and had potential to spread to 500 acres. However, as of Friday morning, it was holding at 170 acres.
At that point, low moisture, winds and high temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s in the East County were the latest concerns for crews.
“They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them. They’re working in steep, rocky terrain. With the terrain they’re dealing with, it takes longer to get that containment number up,” Bortisser explained.
On Thursday morning, Bortisser said Wildcat Canyon Road was open in both directions, and there were no evacuation orders in effect. No structures were threatened, Bortisser said.
Fire crews from San Diego were getting help from multiple Southern California agencies, including Orange and Los Angeles counties.
At least one firefighter was treated for an unspecified medical condition Thursday while battling the blaze, though the extent of his condition is unknown. He was airlifted from the remote area via the San Diego County Sheriff's Department helicopter.
According to the San Diego Sheriff's Department, deputies evacuated seven nearby homes Wednesday night, or 10 people, and said no more evacuations were needed. A temporary evacuation center was set up at Barona Casino, but a mandatory evacuation was not ordered.
"There's only a moderate structure threat," said Cal Fire Captain Kendal Bortisser. "The fire is in a pretty remote area right now."
The California Highway Patrol said they closed down a portion of Wildcat Canyon Road when the fire began just north of Barona Casino and at San Vicente Road. However, all road closures have since been lifted.
Curtis Couch, a reservation resident, helped a friend whose home was dangerously close to the fire. He watched fire crews quickly surround the home, which had burned to the ground in the 2003 Cedar Fire.
"Man it's so unreal as it came so fast because my wife seen the smoke first and said go see if my grandson's house is OK," he told NBC 7. Within 10 minutes, it was by the home.
Thankfully, firefighters were able to halt the flames before they spread to the structure, stopping it about 25 yards from the front door.
"Go home and tell my wife the horses are OK, Billy's house is OK. Victory this time. It didn't get us," said Couch.
The fire is in an area with a lot of steep, rocky terrain with dry dead fuels, said Bortisser, and crews will have a hard time getting over the steep terrain.
Four fixed-wing airtankers and four helicopters and bulldozers are assisting with putting out the fire, Bortisser said.
“I think it’s San Diego County, we have to be prepared all year round," Bortisser said. "And certainly we went into peak staffing with Cal Fire about a month ago.”
The Cornerstone Therapeutic Riding Center Program Director Judy Beckett said they took trailers and trucks to the area to help evacuate 11 horses, which were taken to Rancho East in Rancho Santa Fe.
There has been no report of damages or civilian injuries.
The cause of the fire still has not been determined. Cal Fire Investigators are at the site, but since this is tribal land, the decision on who should take the investigative lead is trickier than on government or private land.