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By Miriam Raftery

November 14, 2017 (Jamul) – Even after the Gate Fire in Jamul and other blazes started by shooters on public lands endangered homes locally, target shooting in dry, brush areas on public lands continues.

“Since the Gate Fire, we have had a noticeable uptick of illegal shooters along Proctor Valley Road, mostly in the north half,”  photographer Debbie Merrill told East County Magazine.  “I have found three areas now that they are using and leaving their trash and targets behind.  One person or group was so bold as to actually haul in a hay bale to place targets on; within sight of the road.  They are actually dragging targets into the grass (as you can see by the chair photo which had been on the dirt road) and shooting towards homes (at the top of the picture). “

Merrill observed, “A fire will run right up that canyon, especially with winds almost always blowing that direction. The grasses are tinder dry and not only is this plain dumb, but prohibited in the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, Rancho Jamul Ecological Preserve (where two of the three sites are) and on private lands in the area owned by City of San Diego and Otay Ranch.”

The Jamul resident says the Sheriff has been called twice recently over illegal shooting, including young men shooting by headlights at night after illegally driving into the refuge and on another occasion, people shooting handguns at 5:15 a.m, says Merrill, who adds, “Both times after hearing the gunfire continue for extended periods and calling back, we were told they were having `shift change’ and no one ever came.”  ECM asked the Sheriff’s department for comments but did not receive a reply.

As for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency rarely patrols the area due to budget cuts, according to testimony presented at a recent Jamul-Dulzura Planning Group meeting.

It remains illegal to shoot on most public lands locally and if caught, violators can be prosecuted and held liable for damages from any fire that they cause.

But for residents, that’s scant comfort.  “Nothing seems to have been learned from current and earlier fires which is maddening for those who's homes may lie in the path of peril from these senseless acts,” Merrill concludes.