What to Know
- The fire was finally contained 20 days after originally sparking at Spirit Trail and Japatul Valley Road on Sept. 5
- At one point, more than 1,400 people were under evacuation due to the blaze's spread
- The Valley Fire has destroyed 30 homes and damages several more. 2 people were hurt
After a nearly 20-day firefight, crews have fully surrounded the more than 16,000-acre Valley Fire burning in the Cleveland National Forest south of Alpine.
The U.S. Forest Service announced the fire that sparked on Sept. 5 at Spirit Trail and Japatul Valley Road was 100% contained and more accurate mapping of the landscape showed the fire had burned 16,390 acres of land, not the more than 17,600 in earlier estimations.
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The change does little to diminish the fact that the fast-moving fire destroyed 30 homes and 31 outbuildings -- and damaged several more -- as it tore through vegetation over the Labor Day weekend and beyond.
At one point, more than 850 firefighters with agencies across California, were involved in the firefight. The U.S. military also lent water-dropping aircraft to the effort, which Cal Fire credited for allowing crews to hold the fire from pushing into more populated areas to the west.
When the fire erupted on a Saturday afternoon, weather conditions were not on the side of first responders. Sweltering heat and low humidity created fire-prone conditions and prompted a red flag fire warning.
The fire spread quickly and evacuations were ordered almost immediately. At one point, it forced as many as 1,420 people to leave their homes.
Within two days, the Valley Fire had exploded to more than 10,000 acres.
But conditions improved in the coming days and forecasted Santa Ana winds failed to develop, allowing crews to increase containment to about 35% and some residents to return to their homes.
“With outstanding work from your firefighters, we were able to hold this west side in essence to the same footprint that it was in the day before -- nothing short of amazing that we were able to hold the fire there," said Operations Section Chief Mike Milkovich.
Things to keep in mind in case of a disaster.
A week after the blaze sparked, all evacuation orders, warnings and road closures were lifted after crews had cut a containment line around 55% of the blaze. By the following Monday, Cal Fire was called off the blaze and hundreds of firefighters were sent home. At that point, the fire hadn't grown in size in days.
But it would still be another week of mopping up before the U.S. Forest Service would declare the fire out. At that point, less than 50 firefighters were tending to the fire.
The cause of the Valley Fire is under investigation. Cal Fire reported two injuries linked to the fire but no further details were given.
Meanwhile, agencies began to band together to offer support for families affected by the wildfire. San Diego County established a temporary local emergency services resource center and opened 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 Valley Fire was the first major wildfire of 2020 in San Diego County, but it is not likely to be the last what used to be known as "fire season" ramps up for the western United States. Fire officals warn, now, that residents should always be prepared for a wildfire because they can occur any time of year.
San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said all residents should sign up for emergency alerts, either through the 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.
As many residents were able to return to their homes, Cal Fire closed a temporary evacuation center at El Capitan High School in Lakeside. Cal Fire said emergency lodging was still available for victims of the Valley Fire via the American Red Cross.