What to Know
- As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, the Valley Fire had grown to 17,665 and was 27% contained.
- A red flag warning is in effect until 8 p.m. Wednesday.
- Evacuation orders are in place for Lawson Valley, Japatul Valley, Lyons Valley, and Carveacre.
More than 16,000 residents in San Diego's backcountry were warned of potential power shut-offs as firefighters faced off Wednesday against harsh Santa Ana winds during their fifth day battling the 17,665-acre Valley Fire.
At 7 p.m., Cal Fire said the blaze stood at 17,665 acres, just 100 acres larger than the agency's afternoon estimate. The agency also upgraded containment from 11% to 27%.
"The fire was impacted by the strong offshore wind event later than forecasted this morning. Due to the fire retardant that was laid down yesterday, and the strong air support again today, resources were successful in keeping the fire from getting established and pushing into more populated areas to the west. Dry conditions will continue with a gradual warming trend through the weekend," Cal Fire's incident report read.
With help from Mother Nature, the fire mostly held in size from Tuesday night to Wednesday night.
Cal Fire said forceful winds predicted overnight and Wednesday morning didn't materialize, which in turn didn't lower humidity as they feared. Strong gusts could still return and cause problems Wednesday night.
Gusty winds led to increased fire activity Wednesday morning, but within containment lines, Cal Fire said. Firefighters were still bracing for warmer and drier air through at least 8 p.m. when a red flag warning was set to expire.
Ground crews told NBC 7 it was around 10 degrees cooler in the burn area Tuesday, humidity levels were about double, and winds were about half the speed compared to Wednesday.
Evacuation orders for Corte Madera Ranch and Barrett Dam were downgraded to warnings, as were orders for areas accessible by Lawson Valley Road to the east (with the exception of Forest Park Road), and the north side of Japatul Road between Syquan Truck Trail and Hidden Glen Road.
Proof of residency is required for re-entry into areas under evacuation warnings.
Cal Fire warned county residents not to be alarmed by new columns of smoke rising in the fire's burn zone. Firefighters were actually burning islands of fuel spared by the blaze over the last five days.
Wednesday evening before nightfall, firefighters were walking containment lines checking the ground temperature of unburned islands of fuel.
They were also strategically laying hose and pumps in high-risk areas. Meanwhile, aircraft were dropping water on burn areas where smoke was seen.
Firefighters say 17,000 acres is equivalent to around 27 square miles.
At last update, the fire had ravaged at least 26 homes and 25 more outbuildings, and damaged at least 11 other structures, according to Cal Fire.
On Wednesday NBC 7 heard from the Joseph family whose 18-acre property at the end of West Boundary Truck Trail was nearly decimated on Saturday. The flames wiped out eight structures and took several animals, but spared their home.
“The fire came from the east and over this ridge toward the house, but because of the defensible space and the sprinkler system that surrounded the home, the house was saved. Still, some of what was lost can't be replaced," said Gareth Joseph, who built most of the home himself.
Security cameras on the Joseph property captured the 50-foot flames racing toward the house.
“It is a surreal experience,” Joseph added. “You never think it is going to happen to you until it does.”
Joseph’s wife and their three children watched the recording on a cell phone as it happened from a shopping center parking lot before power to the house went out.
While the house was spared, the fire destroyed much of what was around it. The family lost 12 chickens and four ducks. There were multiple structures on the property, including a chicken coup and workshop, that went down in the flames.
Also reduced to ash were storage containers that housed precious works of art created by Joseph’s late mother-in-law, and other family heirlooms.
“All of her artwork is destroyed. Our first baby's crib is destroyed. All our memories we had stored in those containers are gone."
It was difficult for Joseph to get his mind around destruction, but the generosity of friends and neighbors snapped him out of it.
“Our son already had some friends give him a bike, and the same with my daughter, so definitely some guardian angels and living angels looking out for us,” he said.
Joseph, a construction worker, said he salvaged enough tools to keep working, but because there is no water, gas or electricity on the property it will be at least a month before he can move home.
Friends have started a GoFundMe page to support the family in the meantime.
As of 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, some 1,300 customers in parts of the fire zone were without power. This included about 1,100 customers across Dulzura, Dehesa, Alpine, Lyons Valley, Barrett Lake, and Rancho Palo Verde, where San Diego Gas & Electric said the fire had damaged equipment.
Some customers in the west Descanso, Viejas, and Boulder Creek areas, had their power shut off overnight due to "unsafe conditions in the area," but have since been restored.
The latest power outages and restoration times can be found on SDG&E's outage map here.
The Valley Fire has raged through the Japatul Valley area near Alpine since Saturday when it sparked during a heat wave that swept the region on Labor Day weekend.
Since then, the wildfire has forced evacuations for 1,420 residents with orders still in place for Japatul Valley, Lawson Valley, Lyons Valley, Corte Madera Ranch, WiseCarver, and Carveacre.
Firefighting efforts include a response from eight air tankers, 14 helicopters, dozens of ground engines and water tenders, and the support of military aircraft. Nearly 700 personnel on both the ground and by air have responded to the massive blaze and resources will be up against harsh, risky fire weather Wednesday.
“Let's 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," Cal Fire/San Diego County Fire Authority Chief Tony Mecham said.
Things to keep in mind in case of a disaster.
Inland and mountain communities remain under a red flag warning through 8 p.m. Wednesday. The peak of the winds was expected to take place Wednesday morning.
NBC 7 Meteorologist Sheena Parveen said peak, offshore gusts could hit up to 45 to 55 mph in the morning.
“It’s mostly going to be this morning, that’s when we’ll get the peak of all this,” Parveen said. “After today, it’s really going to get a lot better for the foothills and mountains. We really just have to get through this morning, mainly.”
The cause of the fire remained under investigation.
The fire sparked around 2:15 p.m. Saturday in vegetation at Spirit Trail and Japatul Valley Road. 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." That same day the blaze grew to 17,000-plus acres, but crews have mostly halted its spread since.
Two people were injured but it was not known if those hurt were residents or firefighters, or how severe the injuries were.
"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.”
County residents may see a second plume of smoke to the southeast from a wildfire burning south of the border in Mexico. Cal Fire said that fire poses no immediate threat to the U.S.
The county established a recovery hotline and email to help residents who have been impacted by the Valley Fire.
To contact the recovery hotline by phone, call (858) 715-2200 or email the hotline at ValleyFireRecovery@sdcounty.ca.gov.
The hotline will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and this upcoming weekend when employees answer phone calls and incoming emails.
After this weekend, emails and phone calls will be answered Monday through Friday, according to the county.
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.
Temporary evacuation sites have been set up at Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley 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.
If you are interested in helping residents who have been affected by the Valley Fire, click here.
As of Tuesday night the following evacuation orders and warnings were in effect:
- Lawson Valley
- Japatul Valley
- Lyons Valley
- Pine Valley
- Barrett Junction
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.
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.
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 on the district's 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.
The San Diego County Department of Animal Services has opened a new location at the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds for Valley Fire evacuees to drop off their horses.
Meanwhile, the Iron Oak Canyon Ranch at 12310 Campo Road in Spring Valley is still accepting large animals but is nearing capacity.
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 North of Hidden Glen Road
- Japatul Road at Japatul Spur Road
- Loveland Reservoir Place at Japatul Road
- West Boundary Truck Trail at Hidden Glen Road
- Wisecarver Lane at Wisecarver Truck Trail
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 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, about 1,300 SDG&E customers in the area were without power, according to the agency's outage map. The original outage as the Valley Fire began Saturday 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 backcountry 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. As of Wednesday morning, all 49 customers affected by the forced shutoffs had their power restored.
SDG&E urges anyone who has received a PSPS warning to activate their emergency preparedness plans.
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.