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Largest blaze in Santee chars 5 acres

By Nadin Abbott

Photo, left, by Jeff Holz

April 29, 2014 (San Diego’s East County)-- The day started with smoke in the far East County, near Jacumba on Old Highway 80. Cal Fire responded only to find a structure fire on the other side of the border fence. Per the incident commander, the structure was fully involved and crews remained on scene to make sure it did not pose a threat. Since the house had good clearance, there was no threat to vegetation, or the United States.

The second fire was in Ramona. It was a compost fire at Dye Street south of Ramona Street. It was extinguished in short order.

The third and most serious was near the Carlton Hills Golf Course in Santee.  A parking lot at Carlton Hills Southern Baptist Church became the Incident Command Post for the blaze, which briefly threatened apartments nearby.

This fire was very dangerous due to the high winds, and the heavy fuels. The blaze threatened Carlton Hills Apartments, which had a back fence partially burned. The pall of smoke was heavy enough that it was visible from the west end of Fashion Valley.

As I approached the fire scene, the smoke was black and thick due to a heavy cover of the invasive bamboo-like Arrundo, which burns hot. (Photo, right, by Nadin Abbott)

Heartland committed units along with Cal Fire, which at one point dispatched air tankers, but these never released their load. The Sheriff,  Cal Fire and San Diego Fire Department committed helicopter assets plus ground crews, including three cal Fire units.

Denis Hanson told East County Magazine that this is the second time in 13 years that this area has burned. Her family was warned that

“we might have to evacuate,” she said, adding that she was ready to leave with her children.

Brody Kekoa Spencer told ECM that when it started, “the wind was super strong.” He also saw treetops, or crowns, burning (which was also reported by the on scene commander early on, one of the reasons for the very heavy response).

Spencer also told ECM that the fire “was on both sides of the creek, and a little out of control.” He added that “the smoke was very thick” and that Sheriff deputies told then to back off. (Photo, left, by Greg Dunne, shot from atop Cowles Mountain)

Sherriff’s Captain L. James Bovet told ECM that while there were never evacuations, they did tell people to back away from the fire. He also said that the fire’s forward spread “was stopped at the golf course” and that it burned five acres.

He added that many lessons have been learned over the years, and that “cooperation between law enforcement and fire agencies is very good.” A lot of resources were brought into the scene and he said that while  law enforcement (including Sheriff and San Diego Police, who manned a command post) were going back to other duties, fire personnel would have an extended stay to put out hot spots. (Photo, left, Tammy DeWitt). The smoke was visible across Santee and that helicopters had to scoop up water from Santee Lakes, as seen from 9120 Carlton Oaks.

He did confirm that the fire did get very close to the Carlton Apartments, but that the only property damaged was fencing. (Photo, right, Nadin Abbott)

Given that our region is now under a high wind warning, with low humidity and Santa Anna winds, we are still under danger of a fire. So remain alert.

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