Crews gain ground on East County lightning fires - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Crews gain ground on East County lightning fires

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - About 400 residents of two back-country hamlets east of Julian remained under evacuation orders Thursday as firefighters continued to make steady headway against a succession of lightning-sparked blazes that have raged over more than 15,500 open acres this week.

Four of the six burn areas were fully contained as of this morning, but the two largest -- the Stewart and Wilson fires -- were only partially surrounded and remained potential threats to the roughly 180 homes in the Ranchita and San Felipe communities, authorities said.

Still, by early afternoon the progress of air and ground crews allowed the county to reopen State Route 78, which had been closed between Scissors Crossing and Borrego Springs due to the blazes, collectively dubbed the Vallecito Lightning Complex.

No structural damages have been reported, but three firefighters have suffered minor injuries, including heat exhaustion and a foot problem, according to Cal Fire.

As of late morning, the Stewart Fire had charred some 7,000 acres and was 50 percent surrounded, and the Wilson Fire was at about 8,000 acres and 65 percent containment, said Mike Mohler, a fire captain with the state agency.

The two blazes were close to merging, he said.

At 2:30 p.m., stiff winds were gusting and more thunderheads were looming ominously in the skies over eastern San Diego County, but the weather was not seriously hampering the ground and air personnel laboring to subdue the flames and smoldering hot spots, Mohler said.

About 1,450 crew members were battling the fires from the ground and the air, using 77 fire engines, five helicopters, eight bulldozers and 28 water trucks.

On Wednesday, personnel from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar answered a call from state officials to join in the fight against the blazes. The northern San Diego USMC base sent eight helicopters -- CH-53 Super Stallions and CH-46 Sea Knights -- to help shuttle personnel to the fire lines and make water drops.

Electrical storms began sparking the series of wildfires on Sunday night.

The first, dubbed the Vallecito Fire, blackened about 520 acres southeast of Julian, while the Cooper Fire to north, and the Wynola Fire, off State Route 79, each spread over roughly three acres.

Yet another blaze, named the Shoots Fire, erupted this morning. It scorched less than an acre before crews knocked it down.

An emergency shelter was in place at Warner Springs High School for evacuees, who got word Tuesday afternoon via the county's "reverse 911" that they needed to clear out of their homes.

Members of the public with questions about evacuations or road closures were encouraged to call Cal Fire's local information line at (619) 590-3160 or follow the agency's progress via Twitter, at calfiresandiego.


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