Fire board hoses down "Covert Canyon" training camp - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Fire board hoses down "Covert Canyon" training camp

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EL CAJON, Calif. (CBS 8) - There's a major setback for a paramilitary training camp east of Alpine called "Covert Canyon." A county fire board says the facility is a fire risk. Even so, local police officers are apparently still shooting there.

El Cajon SWAT Officer Kai Mandelleh is not shy about his support for Covert Canyon. He told a county fire board Wednesday his entire SWAT team trains there.

"Currently in the county, this is the only location we have available to our sniper team over 200 yards," Officer Mandelleh said.

Several retired military and law enforcement speakers also told the board the facility is safe, and shooting ranges in the East County are badly needed. They support the owner of Covert Canyon, Marc Halcon, and his efforts to obtain a major use permit.

"The people who use this - military and law enforcement - are at a little bit of a higher level, like you here on the board. They know how to react under stressful situations," Halcon told the board.

But Covert Canyon not only lacks a county permit. It may also be a fire risk. The access road is too long and too narrow to meet fire safety codes.

Opponents say if a wildfire broke out there, people would be trapped.

"A federal government cannot train at an un-permitted facility, the state government cannot authorize training at an un-permitted facility," the opponents' attorney Marco Gonzalez said.

Residents living next door just want the shooting to stop.

"I'm opposed to it for fire issues, noise issues. There are hundreds of people in the area that can hear the shooting every single day," neighbor Vanessa Rusczyk said.

The owner claims he's not running a business, just shooting for recreation.

"It's private shooting on private property," Halcon said. "They're coming up on their own time, on their days off to practice their skill. I don't charge for it, and it's perfectly justified."

According to Gonzalez, in the end a unanimous vote from the county fire board giving Covert Canyon a permit would be a fire risk.

"While the military and local law enforcement may need a facility, they don't need a facility that endangers firefighters and the public," he said.

The El Cajon police chief told News his SWAT officer who appeared at the meeting in uniform was not speaking on behalf of the department.

Covert Canyon owner Marc Halcon says he will appeal the fire board's ruling all the way to the Board of Supervisors if necessary.

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