San Diego

With Power Out, Couple Couldn't Evacuate in Lilac Fire

Amid a raging wildfire in Bonsall, the power went out, but the Millers didn’t know it. They missed the evacuation call

A couple whose home was in the path of the Lilac Fire when it erupted near Bonsall Thursday morning said they couldn’t evacuate when the fire approached because the power was out.

It was Thursday morning and the Millers had been watching the news from their home on West Lilac Road, where images on the screen showed acres of land being engulfed by a wildfire that ignited near Interstate 15 and State Route 76.

That afternoon the power went out, but the Millers didn’t know it.

The Lilac Fire began to spread west and that’s when flames began to creep over the mountainside near the Millers' property.

“My wife noticed some flames on the lot directly behind us,” Ed Miller said.

San Diego Gas & Electric had shut off the power to the area around noon Thursday, which is customary during weather emergency situations like the Lilac Fire.

But without phone service, the Millers were not able to receive the Reverse 9-1-1 call ordering them to evacuate.

Flames rushed through their neighbor’s yard towards the perimeter of their home. Miller went on offense — he grabbed a garden hose and ran towards the fire.

“I was climbing the hill to get up to the fence, our fence, and that fire that [my wife] had noticed in the lot had moved all the way to that fence,” Miller said.

The Millers were one of about 17,000 customers across the county left in the dark Thursday afternoon, as SDG&E turned off power amid dangerous gusty winds that could knock over power lines sparking additional fires. 

About 9,400 SDG&E customers remained without power Friday evening, according to San Diego County officials. SDG&E said it would continue to restore power to homes, but some homes, especially in the area of the Lilac Fire, could be without electricity for several more days as dangerous weather conditions persisted.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob criticized SDG&E’s decision to cut power from homes in the path of the wildfire, preventing residents from accessing well water and firefighters from accessing water sources.

“You can't get the well water without electricity, so that could pose an additional danger,” Jacob said at a press conference Friday. “I hope SDG&E knows what they’re doing. I don’t have a lot of confidence in that, but let’s hope.”

The utility company called Jacob’s comments “insulting.”

“We’re deeply disappointed by Supervisor Jacob’s comments. (They are) insulting to our hard-working men and women, who are dedicated to delivering safe and reliable energy,” a company spokesperson told NBC 7.

The Millers’ home was luckily spared, scorching the side of his gate but never crossing onto their property.

But the remnants of an uncontrollable blaze can be seen less than a block away, where a neighbor’s home was scorched to the ground. About five or six homes in their neighborhood were destroyed, according to NBC 7 news crews.

The Millers decided not to go to an evacuation center amid the power outage. They wanted to stay near their property just in case another evacuation order is issued and they were not allowed to return to gather belongings.

In the meantime, the couple is trying to make the most of it, setting a few candles around their house and using the BBQ to cook food. 

They hope they will have power within the next few days.

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