Update: Military Aircraft Helps Fight Vallecito Lightning Complex

Marine aircraft are making efforts to help Cal Fire fight the lightning fires in East County.

Updated at 3:45 p.m. Aug. 15 with road closures.

Cal Fire asked flight crews from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Wednesday afternoon to join in the effort to subdue the blazes of the Vallecito Lightning Complex.

The northern San Diego USMC base was sending eight helicopters–CH-53 Super Stallions and CH-46 Sea Knights–to help shuttle personnel to the fire lines and make water drops.

The Vallecito Lightning Complex, a combination of five lightning fires, has grown to more than 9,300 acres, Cal Fire reported Wednesday, forcing residents to evacuate the area.

About 400 evacuees were given "mandatory" instructions to vacate the premises late Tuesday afternoon via reverse 911 calls. In the state of California, mandatory evacuation orders technically cannot be enforced.

The evacuees live in the unincorporated community of Ranchita and in the San Felipe area off Highway 78, according to Cal Fire.

A shelter for displaced residents was open Tuesday evening at Warner Springs High School, according to Mike Mohler, a fire captain with the state agency.

A new evacuation site for large animals for Ranchita residents was also established at Creek Hollow Ranch in Ramona.

Evacuation orders remained in effect as Cal Fire reported that around 400 structures were threatened. Mohler said there was a threat to a 69-kilovolt transmission line in Grapevine Canyon that serves the communities of Borrego Springs, Warner Springs and Ranchita.

Multiple road and highway closures between Borrego Springs, Julian and Ranchita were also in effect Wednesday.

The Department of Public Works reported the following road closures Wednesday afternoon:

  • Montezuma Valley Road (S22) from San Felipe Rd to Palm Canyon
  • San Felipe Road (S2) from Hwy 79 to Hwy 78
  • Yaqui Pass Road from Rams Hill Road to Hwy 78

Mohler said that the extreme terrain and distance from roads are making it difficult for ground resources to access the fires.

Cal Fire 1,453 firefighters are fighting the five fires from theground and the air. The Vallecito Lightning Complex has scorched 9,325 acres as of 7 a.m. Wednesday, according to the agency. It is 15 percent contained.

Residents with questions about the fires are encouraged to call Cal Fire's incident information line at 619-590-3160 or follow the agency on Twitter.

Earlier story:

Authorities have asked residents of Ranchita to prepare to evacuate, as the small community potentially sits in the path of the flames from the four lightning-sparked East County blazes dubbed the Vallecito Lightning Complex.

The series of fires have scorched more than 2,350 acres after , erupted at about 8 p.m. Sunday.

More than 560 firefighters battled the four separate lightning-sparked blazes near Julian early Tuesday.

The Vallecito Fire is burning southeast of Julian, while the three other fires were all burning northeast of the small tourist town. As of early Tusday, no structures were threatened, the state firefighting agency reported.   

However, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said there was a threat to a 69-kilovolt transmission line in Grapevine Canyon that serves the communities of Borrego Springs, Warner Springs and Ranchita.

The Wilson Fire, which is headed north toward Ranchita, has burned the most brush–1,400 acres–while the Vallecito Fire has scorched 350, the Stewart Fire 600 and the Cooper Fire, two acres, Cal Fire reported.

The Cooper Fire was fully contained early today, while the Vallecito was 30 percent contained. The Wilson Fire was 5 percent and the Stewart Fire was zero percent contained, according to Cal Fire, which dubbed the fires the Vallecito Lightning Complex.

–City News Service contributed to this report.

kate rochester August 15, 2012 at 12:39 AM


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