San Diego County

Day 4: Valley Fire a ‘Sleeping Giant' as Firefighters Prepare for Santa Anas

By around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Cal Fire San Diego announced the fire stood at 17,565 acres, only a few hundred more than estimated Tuesday morning, and by the evening firefighters had gone from 3% to 11% containment.

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What to Know

  • The Valley Fire has scorched 17,565 acres and destroyed at least 20 homes as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. The blaze is 11% contained so far
  • A Red Flag Warning that goes into effect at noon could mean bad news for the firefight as Santa Ana winds increase and humidity drops overnight Tuesday
  • Evacuation orders remain in effect for Lawson Valley, Japatul Valley, Corte Madera Ranch, Lyons Valley, Carveacre, WiseCarver.

Calmer-than-expected winds ahead of a bout with Santa Ana gusts gave firefighters a window to attack the now 17,565-acre Valley Fire and make progress on containment before nightfall Tuesday.

Santa Ana winds were expected to ramp up Tuesday afternoon and through the evening, but a delay, along with lower temperatures and higher humidity gave ground crews time to go on offense as aircraft continued to pour water on flames from above.

Surely the improved conditions, however brief, won't lead to fire command lowering their guard.

"I want to be very clear in my messaging: We have a sleeping giant that is in the backcountry and while we have focused tremendous effort on the west side of the fire, tonight the winds are going to blow and this fire has the potential to burn," Cal Fire/San Diego County Fire Authority Chief Tony Mecham said.

Between 11 p.m. Tuesday and 7 a.m. Wednesday winds in the area of the fire were expected to gust between 25 and 35 mph while relative humidity drops into the low teens and even single digits, according to NBC 7 Meteorologist Dagmar Midcap.

Cal Fire said the peak of the wind event would be between 11 p.m. Tuesday and 3 a.m. Wednesday.

At last update, the fire had ravaged at least 20 homes and 25 more outbuildings.

A red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service began Tuesday afternoon and will remain through at least 8 p.m. Wednesday, raising the threat of wildfires. The warning is in effect for the mountains and valleys -- bad news for fire crews as they continue to fight the Japatul Valley-area blaze.

A crew of nearly 700 personnel from both the ground and the air have been preparing for Tuesday's wind event by cutting a containment line around the western portion of the blaze and dropping fire retardant from above.

“Lets never forget that despite the aircraft and the technology, what puts this fire out is young men and women still climbing hills, still running chainsaws and still swinging axes and pulaskis," Mecham said.

By around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Cal Fire San Diego announced the fire stood at 17,565 acres, only a few hundred more than estimated Tuesday morning, and by the evening firefighters had gone from 3% to 11% containment.

Nearly 700 fire personnel with 8 air tankers and 14 helicopters --not to mention dozens of ground engines and water tenders -- and with the support of the military, were tackling the blaze, to the praise of nearby residents like Susan Stevenson.

With the Valley Fire continuing to ravage through the East County, evacuations forced families and their pets out of their homes.

Firefighters "get out here and risk their lives every day in this horrific heat, fighting smoke and flames and hand tools in the rocks, mountains, valleys," Stevenson said. "It’s extremely dangerous and if we didn’t have our firefighters out here to protect our houses, they'd be gone."

The Lyons Valley resident, who recalls the 2007 wildfires that came close to her home, said she saw smoke rising in the east on Saturday afternoon and immediately started to pack. She left that evening.

"It's just better to be safe than sorry," she said.

The fire sparked around 2:15 p.m. Saturday in vegetation at Spirit Trail and Japatul Valley Road amid an oppressive heat wave that swept the county during a Labor Day weekend. The cause of the blaze was not known.

By Monday morning, it had exploded to more than 10,000 acres as Cal Fire described its pace as a "critical/dangerous rate of speed."

At least 20 homes and 25 outbuildings were destroyed in the inferno's devastating path. Two people were injured but it was not known if those hurt were residents or firefighters, or how severe the injuries were.

At least nine other structures were damaged, according to Cal Fire.

On Tuesday, Cal Fire noted that the fire continued to show rapid rates of spread and was being pushed by westerly winds. The fire was moving towards communication towers and the communities near Corte Madera.

"If you’re in any danger out there, don’t wait for an evacuation order. You should have your prep kit, everything, and gear ready to leave," said County Supervisor Diane Jacob. "The Sana Ana winds move a fire very, very fast as we’ve seen here in San Diego and they're expected to hit in the middle of the night.”

San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said all residents should sign up for AlertSanDiego app or for text or call alerts from the county Office of Emergency Services and keep their phones close by and charged. If the time comes for mandatory evacuations, sheriff's deputies will go door-to-door to alert residents as well.

Those with family members with additional needs, such as senior citizens or special needs individuals, should not wait for an evacuation order but should leave when a warning is issued for their community.

"Remember, you don’t have to wait, to be told to evacuate. You're the best judge, if you feel like you're in danger, take up your personal goods, your family members and let's not forget our pets, and evacuate," Gore said.

About 1,420 people have already been forced to evacuate with several other communities under evacuation warnings. Temporary evacuation sites have been set up at Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley, Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine, and El Capitan High School in Lakeside thanks to the Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties. Meanwhile, large livestock are being saved thanks to the San Diego Humane Society.


As of Tuesday night the following evacuation orders and warnings were in effect:

Evacuation Orders

  • Lawson Valley
  • Japatul Valley
  • Corte Madera Ranch
  • Lyons Valley
  • Carveacre
  • WiseCarver

Evacuation Warnings

  • Pine Valley
  • Descanso
  • Alpine
  • Viejas
  • Dulzura
  • Barrett Junction
  • Potrero

An evacuation warning means evacuations are voluntary right now, not mandatory, but officials said residents should prepare to leave their homes if an evacuation order is issued.

Cal Fire said Sunday that in addition to the evacuated areas, the wildfire was threatening buildings in Wood Valley, Lyons Valley, and Deer Horn Valley.

“I saw lots and lots of fire,” said Manuel Baeza, a Lawson Valley resident. “Lots of fire. Big, big flames. Maybe like 60 feet or 80 feet high.”

Temporary evacuation sites are located at Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley, at 12440 Campo Rd., and at El Capitan High School in Lakeside at 10410 Ashwood Street.

A temporary site at Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine, at 2001 Tavern Rd., was at max capacity as of Tuesday evening.

Authorities said family pets are welcomed at the evacuation centers.

All evacuation updates tied to the Valley Fire can be found here.

A family forced to evacuate their home in San Diego's East County due to the Valley Fire said that moment felt like their "worst nightmare coming true." NBC 7's Amber Frias reports.

The Jamul-Dulzura Unified School District canceled classes for the rest of the week due to the wildfire, the San Diego County Office of Education said. Students affected would be notified of the cancelation by phone, social media and website, and through messages in Google Classroom.

The American Red Cross of the Southern California Region was also assisting those who have been displaced.

The San Diego Humane Society said its emergency response team will be helping with animal evacuations. Large animals will also be held in an evacuation site at the County Animal Services South Shelter, in Bonita. SDHS can assist in evacuating large animals and family pets are also welcome there, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said.

NBC 7's Omari Fleming reports live from the Lions, Tigers and Bears sanctuary in Alpine.

The San Diego County Department of Animal Services has opened a new location at the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds for #ValleyFire evacuees to drop off their horses.
The rodeo grounds at 12584 Mapleview St. is now open for horses only. While County Animal Services is overseeing the facility, the San Diego Humane Society and other qualified volunteers will be caring for the horses on site.
Meanwhile, the Iron Oak Canyon Ranch at 12310 Campo Road in Spring Valley is still accepting large animals but is nearing capacity.

Road Closures

A series of roads were closed over the weekend due to the Valley Fire. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department said the following roads were closed until further notice:

  • Japatul Road and Lyons Valley Road/Japatul Road
  • Japatul Road at Tavern Road/Dehesa Road
  • Japatul Road at Via Asoleado
  • Japatul Road at Sequan Truck Trail
  • Lyons Valley Road and Honey Springs Road
  • Wisecarver Lane at Wisecarver Truck Trail
  • Skyline Truck Trail and Lawson Valley
  • Corral Canyon at Buckman Springs (Buckman Springs is open)
  • High Glenn Road
  • Hidden Glenn Road

Photos: Valley Fire Scorches 17,345 Acres Near Alpine

Power Outages

The brush fire caused thousands to lose power in east San Diego County. San Diego Gas & Electric said the unplanned outages were a result of soot accumulating on power lines and other power equipment, which can "affect their performance and integrity."

"Helicopters may be needed to wash off the residue from burned materials," SDG&E said in a statement.

As of 5:40 a.m. Tuesday, about 2,250 SDG&E customers in the area were without power, according to the agency's outage map. The original outage affected more than 12,000 customers.

In advance of the Santa Ana wind event expected to peak Wednesday, SDG&E notified more than 16,000 back country residents of possible public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) that could last through Thursday. PSPS's are a last resort for the utility when trying to reduce fire risk during weather events.

The PSPS warning went out to customers via phone call, text, and email messages, according to SDG&E. Customers can also monitor PSPS status relative to their community online, or with SDG&E's new PSPS app.

SDG&E urges anyone who has received a PSPS warning to activate their emergency preparedness plans.

Wildfire What-to-Knows

Some helpful things to be mindful of when it comes to wildfires.

Wildfires FAQ: When It's Time to Evacuate, Remember These Tips

How to Help Victims of San Diego's Valley Fire

While SDG&E estimated power would be restored to some on Monday and to the rest by Tuesday afternoon, the agency noted it depends on first responders clearing the way for their crews to work in the fire area.

"Before re-energizing power lines in the vicinity of a fire, SDG&E must be first cleared by first responder agencies who have command of the incident that it is safe for our crews," the agency said.

Sweltering Heat Wave, Fire Risk

It’s been a difficult few days for crews as they faced triple-digit temperatures during a relentless heat wave in San Diego County.

The county was under a red flag warning throughout the weekend, and on Tuesday the hot, dry conditions would continue.

The National Weather Service said its red flag would remain in effect from noon Tuesday through 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Sheena Parveen's Morning Forecast for Sept. 8, 2020.

Strong, gusty winds and low humidity in the mountains and foothills of the inland valleys will create a dangerous mix in the fight against the Valley Fire.

NWS said winds can gust on average 20 to 30 mph, and up to 55 mph winds are possible in the gustiest areas.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in San Diego County on Sunday night.

The state faces an unprecedented situation with regard to wildfires; on Sunday, Newsom also declared a state of emergency in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, and San Bernardino counties. The governor said that "extreme peril to the safety of persons and property exist due to the Creek, El Dorado, and Valley Fires" in a proclamation issued on Sunday.

Among other things, the state of emergency mobilizes the California National Guard to aid in relief efforts and also permits state agencies to assist in the purchase of "materials, goods, equipment and services necessary to quickly assist with the response to and recovery from the impacts of these fires."

"The fires have burned tens of thousands of acres, destroyed homes and caused the evacuation of thousands of residents," Newsom's office stated in a news release sent out Sunday night. The governor declared the statewide emergency in response to the dangers posed by the fires and secured a "presidential major disaster declaration" to aid in the state's response to the fires in Northern California in Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Napa, Nevada, Lake, Solano, Yolo and Monterey counties.

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