FIREFIGHTERS MAKE A STAND AT RANCHITA AS SOME RESIDENTS DEFY EVACUATION ORDERS

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Update August 16, 2012 8 a.m. - The fires are now 60% contained; acreage remains at 15,525.  Moderate fire growth will continue today and a return to monsoonal flow will begin this morning, says Roxanne Provaznik with Cal Fire. Direct fireline tactics remain difficult due to terrain. Three firefighters have been injured; cost to suppress the fire is up to $3,870,000.  Evacuations  and road closures remain in effect.

Update Augusut 15, 2012 9 p.m. -- Fires have scorned 15,525 acre and are 35% contained.  The two largest blazes are the Wilson Fire (8,000 acres and 50% contained) and the Stewart Fire (7,000 acres and 40% contained). 

Story and photos by Nadin Abbott

August 15, 2012 (Ranchita)-- The mood was tense as firefighters made a stand on Old Wilson Road and Montezuma Road this afternoon. Hand crews were about to do what Public Information Officer for Cal- Fire Tom Piranio called "burning the fuel back to the main fire."

This was at the Wilson Branch of the Vallecito fire complex. Piranio also said that the "firing operation is working like textbook." This means that the fire will not have fuel to burn. It was succeeding, strengthening the fire line to protect both firefighters and the town of Ranchita.

There is also a contingency line at S-22 and Old Wilson Road. Piranio also said that weather forecast predicted a return to a more normal San Diego weather pattern with a deep invention layer. “The weather is cooperating," he noted.

As far as resources are concerned, they are receiving crews from all over the state of California. According to Mike Moehler, Fire Captain for CAL-Fire and Public Information officer and the United States Marine Corp. Public Affairs Office, elements of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing have joined the firefighting efforts under the Defense Support of Civil Authorities Process. 

These are a mix of CH-53 Super Stallions and CH-46 Sea Knights.

Firefighting resources have arrived from across the state, this reporter saw units from San Diego, Chula Vista, Kern County, Fresno, Chino Valley, the California Conservation Corp, Ventura and LA county. 

ECM also spoke with "Phil" who did not want to give us a last name or be photographed. Phil is retired, and was sitting outside the Ranchita Store watching the show. He said that many refused to evacuate.

"Everything is safe. Everything is clear and we got water,” he said. “People have water tanks and wells." I asked about his livestock; he said that it is well protected. “They have plenty of water, and plenty of feed."

Other residents echoed Phil, adding that almost nobody left despite mandatory evacuation notices.

Taking such risks can prove deadly. In past San Diego wildfires, some individuals who stayed home lost lives.  The action has also put firefighters at risk when last-minute rescues become necesasry.

Much earlier in the day, at 9:45, the designated animal large animal shelter at Creek Hollow Ranch, 25279 Creek Hollow Drive (off East Old Julian Highway), had yet to receive one animal. They were ready and set, but Animal Control pulled out earlier in the morning.

Landon Lindberg told me that they were ready to receive up to 30 horses and could handle some small goats and sheep.

By late afternoon,  the County Department of Animal Services reports it has rescued dozens of animals in the Ranchita area to help residents evacuate animals or to evacuate the animals where owners could not be found. So far, at least 45 animals have been saved including horses, goats and other small animals.

People evacuating with small animals only should go to the Red Cross shelter at Warner Springs High School. The San Diego Humane Society and SPCA will provide pet supplies if needed. If you need help evacuating animals, call 619-236-2341.

At the Red Cross Evacuation Point at Warner Springs High School, which is ready to become a full time shelter, Frank Houde, Shelter Manager, said that three people stayed overnight. Headquarters is supplying them well.

“People up here are pretty rugged," he concluded, adding that despite the dangers, many try to avoid shelters unless absolutely necessary.     

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