Friday is the 10th anniversary of the start of the Cedar Fire, which killed 15 people and became the most destructive in the history of the state.
San Diego city and county officials and fire department representatives will hold a news conference Friday in Scripps Ranch to share their memories of the momentous wildfire, which scorched more than 273,000 acres, destroyed more than 2,200 homes and took weeks to extinguish.
The blaze started as a signal fire set by a lost hunter late on the afternoon of a blistering hot Oct. 25, 2003, in a remote wilderness area between Ramona and Julian. The hunter was rescued by helicopter but firefighters called in to fight the flames were stymied by difficult terrain.
The fire covered around 10 acres by sundown and remained relatively small well into the night. But powerful Santa Ana winds sprung up after midnight, sweeping flames into Wildcat Canyon -- between Lakeside and Ramona.
Most of the deaths occurred in and around the canyon area, many as the victims attempted to escape. Survivors later told of waking up to flames already on their properties.
Another finger of the fire raced into Scripps Ranch, where flames fed by combustible eucalyptus trees ravaged several neighborhoods. The westward march of flames went about halfway down the length of the runway at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar before they were stopped.
When the Santa Ana winds died down -- replaced by a sea breeze -- the flames roared east, devastating small mountain communities near Julian and Lake Cuyamaca and killing firefighter Steven Rucker, of the Novato Fire Department north of San Francisco. Rucker was one of hundreds of fire personnel from throughout the state dispatched to battle the Cedar Fire.
The East County mountains bear scars from the fire to this day, from denuded hillsides to huge stands of gray, broken trees standing on slopes near Lake Cuyamaca.
As bad as the Cedar Fire was, firefighters also had to deal with destructive blazes around the same time in Valley Center, east of Chula Vista and Camp Pendleton.
Another Santa Ana-driven firestorm broke out four years later when an electrical line fell. The blaze, now known as the Witch Creek Fire, then barreled into Rancho Bernardo, where hundreds of homes were destroyed. Several other wildfires broke in the area that fall.
For the Cedar Fire anniversary, no Santa Ana winds are predicted by the National Weather Service despite warmer temperatures expected heading into the weekend.
-City News Service
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