UPDATE July 18, 2012: SDG&E has informed ECM that the Old Fire was not started by Sunrise Powerlink. “The fire started on June 17 near Miller Valley,” Hanan Eisenman, communications manager, stated in an e-mail received June 18. “At the closest point, Sunrise is two miles away. Therefore, this has nothing to do with the Sunrise Powerlink.”
Cause of the fire, which is now over 820 acres, remains under investigation, per Cal Fire.
Update 10:05 p.m.: This fire is now 450 acres, spreading rapidly. an estimated 150 homes are threatened and the blaze is zero percent contained. A travel trailer has been destroyed.
Road closures: Old 80 x La Posta rd, Old 80 x Crestwood, Hwy 94 x Church Rd, and Crestwood 2 miles east of Golden Acorn Casino. There are 15 engine, 2 handcrews, 1 dozer, 4 airplanes, and 3 helicopters assigned. A shelter has been set up at Golden Acorn Casino. A Cal-Fire spokesman told ECM there is room in the parking lot for trailered livestock as well. An earlier report that Golden Acorn had evacuated proved incorrect.
June 11, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Approximately 443 households are without power as a 450-acre wildfire rages in or near their communities, ECM has learned.
Is it just coincidence that earlier today, electricity was switched on to the 500 kilovolt (kv) Sunrise Powerlink for the first time, as UT San Diego reported today?
At 2:53 p.m., SDG&E’s website states that “a combination of factors has caused a problem with a substation.”
According to Cal-Fire, the wildfire, called the Old Fire, began around 3 p.m.
At 3:56 p.m., an additional outage was reported, this one leaving 356 customers without power due to “a combination of factors” that “caused a problem with a substation,” according to SDG&E’s website.
Did SDG&E’s power lines or substation cause the fire, or were power lines shut down after the fire began as a proactive step?
If the latter, was a shutoff necessary to aid firefighters or prevent lines from igniting? Was it really necessary to leave hundreds of people without power in the middle of a wildfire zone, leaving some with no communications about the emergency in an area of poor cell phone coverage?
Many rural residents also rely on electricity to pump wells. An outage can leave them unable to defend their properties against wildfires.
SDG&E has not yet returned calls to clarify whether the two circuits were shut down before or after the wildfire began, or whether energization of Powerlink was related to the fire.
A post by a senior member at the WildlandFire.com website, where firefighters blog about active incidents, stated at 2:43 when the fire was 30 acres that “Fire is also impacting SDGE 69 kv lines. SDGE on scene.”
Also unclear is whether the newly energized lines had any impact on firefighting, a prospect rural residents have long feared. While fire officials have been reluctant to openly voice concerns over Powerlink, some have stated fears that the line could impede aerial firefighting as well as firefighting on the ground near powerlines while awaiting SDG&E to deenergize the lines.
Areas impacted by the outages on two circuits include Japatul Valley, Buckman Springs, Morena Village, Live Oak Springs, Boulevard, and Jacumba.
Homes have been evacuated in Live Oak Springs and nearby Campo. The fire is currently burning east toward Boulevard. Another 40 people have been evacuated from homes in the area.
SDG&E’s website earlier predicted power will be restored around 11 pm, however up until around 8:30 tonight, the website was predicting power would be back on at 8:30 p.m. in all areas.
Update: At 11:00 p.m., SDG&E's website shows power restored in some areas, though 121 remain without power. It is now forecast to be restored at 4 a.m.
Interestingly, SDG&E has twice changed the cause of the outage. Initially, multiple problems and a substation were blamed. This evening, a problem with overhead powerlines was listed. That later changed to read "a brush fire has caused a problem with a power pole" after our earlier story was published.