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Update July 8, 2013 -- 9 p.m.:  The fire, now 4,850 acres and 15% contained, has jumped across Surnise Highway. ECM has confirmation from multiple sources including an eyewitness report from our reporter Nadin Abbott at the scene that a structure has burned at Sierra Lodge and that Shrine Camp has also burned. 

Mt. Laguna is evacuated along the entire Sunrise Highway and an evacuation center, closed earlier, is now reopen at Joan McQueen Middle School, 2001 Tavern Road in Alpine. Dark smoke is billowing over the mountains at Descanso and Pine Valley; residents across these areas and Cuyamaca are advised to stay alert and informed. 


Story and photos by Nadin Abbott

July 7, 2013 (Mt Laguna)—Crews from all over Southern California, including Kern, Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego County are fighting the Chariot fire. This fire is now at 2500 acres and 20% contained.

Many of these hand crews include hot shot crews. According to Rosanne Grier, Cal Fire Public Information Officer trainee and Fire Fighter One, “There are no structure threats at this time. There was an old historical cabin, they had crews in place to try to protect; I don’t believe that it is still at threat at this point.”

Grier also said that mandatory evacuations for many camps in the area are a precautionary measure. She also added that the fire “has not passed the Sunrise Highway,” though it has reached the highway just beyond Mile Marker 29. The objective is to hold it at Sunrise Highway, and there are fire operations to create “a bigger buffer zone.”

Where we stood while speaking, we had a night view of the Chariot canyon where the fire started. We had no view of either Storm or Cottonwood canyons. The latter had several runs down the drainage, where fuels are thicker, due to “the erratic fire behavior due to the changing winds,” said Grier. “This area is know for erratic winds. One minute is burning to the east and [then]  to the west. That creates different runs at different points in the day.”

Tonight the fire was burning back towards the east, where it is running into already burned fuels.

The concern firefighters have is that if they cannot contain the wildfire at Sunrise Highway, “It does have a chance of burning towards Cuyamaca or Julian.” That said at the moment the fire is holding at the highway. They also fear that it could make a run south towards Pine Valley.

At the moment the fire is at an area that burned during the Pines fire, and it is medium fuels. It is also burning back into areas already burned, which is helping firefighters.

ECM talked earlier in the day with Nica Knite (photo, right), owner of the Pine House Café and Tavern. Knite told ECM that she was evacuated from her property earlier in the day. The evacuation was ordered around noon and it was mandatory. This evacuation order included also three of the five campgrounds in the area: Shrine Camp, Laguna/ElPrado Campgrounds, & Horse Heaven Campground.

While “the agencies have been working very hard to keep it off Mount Laguna,” there has been misinformation, Knite said. “People have been focusing on Julian as the relative area, and Julian is not Mt. Laguna.”

As far as the population, there are 175 vacation cabins that are not occupied at all times, and approximately 25 full time residences that are not necessarily occupied right now.

Knite told ECM that a home belonging to the last of the Kumeyaay Laguna Indian band is at risk from the fire. Knite’s own home is also threatened.

ECM also talked with Steve and Irene Wilcomb, managers at one of the evacuated campgrounds. They told ECM that last night, when the fire was still 50 acres, around 5 p.m., they were told that the evacuation would be voluntary. They went through the campground and informed campers of the situation.  A couple of families left before there was a mandatory evacuation in place.

Around 9:30 this morning  they were notified that the fire was going towards Sunrise Highway and told to inform the campers, which they did. Around noon they were ordered to evacuate.

Irene added, “They call it a hard evacuation.” They all left. Then the Wilcombs stayed and watched the Air Attack aircraft come in and do their bombing runs. After that, they went to the Tavern where we met.



Update on evacuations from Cal Fire


Current Situation:  Accessibility is difficult in many areas with steep rocky terrain.  Crews are being shuttled via helicopter to many sections of the fire.  The fire has reached Sunrise Highway above Cottonwood Canyon.  Fire continues to be a potential threat to many campgrounds.         
Evacuations:  El Prado Campground, Horse Heaven Campground, Laguna Campground, Al Bahr Shrine Camp, Foster Lodge, Sunrise Highway from  Highway 79 to Escondido Ravine Road.    
Evacuation Centers:  Joan McQueen Middle School, Alpine
Road Closures:  Sunrise Highway