East County Family Shares Close Encounter With Valley Fire

The Valley fire first sparked around 2:15 p.m. Saturday in vegetation at Spirit Trail and Japatul Valley Road

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As fire crews start to get a handle on the 17,665-acre Valley fire, survivors who've had time to catch their breath are sharing their stories.

“When the flames were coming down this hill they were 40 feet in the air. It was like a wall of flames coming this way and that way and it was just time to go," said Ben Friesen. "It honestly was the most terrifying thing I've ever seen."

The Friesen family was able to escape the fire Saturday night after flames got dangerously close to their home.

"The sound was crazy. Think of like waves crashing, but it was air crashing down the hill and heat," said Ben Friesen.

The east Jamul family of six was planning on going camping Saturday afternoon, but that changed when the fire sparked.

"I think one of the scariest things was just seeing it on top of the mountain and it coming down towards us," said Lucy Friesen, 11. "Just having to leave and imagining not coming back."

First, Juli Friesen evacuated with her four children, ages 6, 9, 11, and 13, and their pets and animals. Their father stayed behind setting up sprinklers on his roof and doing what he could to protect the home until it was time to go.

"You start thinking about, well, a house is full of stuff, well what's important?" said Ben Friesen. "What do I take? And that list was really short. I know my family is safe so that means the world."

The family lost multiple sheds and an office that held photos and Juli's wedding dress. The girls lost their tack shed for their beloved horse, Buddy. Their property is also severely damaged.

Luckily their home survived. Their relatives are raising funds to help them rebuild.

"I'm really, really thankful for the firefighters because they're making sure we have a home and have a fun property still and it can regrow and I hope they stay safe," said Lucy Friesen.

The Friesen family said they are also thankful for their neighbors who watched over their home, but they're saddened for so many who lost theirs, including one neighbor whose propane tank exploded and caused major damage.

The Valley Fire has left thousands without power and many neighbors are relying on generators.

As of Wednesday evening, it was 27% contained and had already taken down 26 homes and 25 outbuildings.

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