Thirty-four homes were destroyed when a devastating vegetation fire tore through the foothill community of Alpine in San Diego’s East County on Friday.
The latest numbers released by Cal Fire Sunday said 20 other structures were damaged and 21 accessory buildings and a commercial building were also destroyed by the 505-acre West Fire that sparked at about 11:30 a.m. Friday near Willows Road and Alpine Boulevard.
The fire was 92 percent contained by Sunday afternoon, two days after the fire exploded amid a dangerous heat wave that sent temperatures into triple digits.
Most of the Alpine community was immediately evacuated when the fire began to spread at what fire officials said was a “critical rate,” heading south along Interstate 8 and hopping from neighborhood to neighborhood as it destroyed some homes and left others unscathed.
Just hours after the fire sparked Friday, the West Fire had burned 150 acres and less than an hour-and-a-half later the size more than doubled to 350 acres.
Cal Fire Division Chief Daryll Pina said as of 4 p.m. Friday, the forward rate of spread had been halted.
Later that evening, officials estimated the fire had scorched 400 acres and by Saturday morning said the fire was 30 percent contained.
All evacuation orders and road closures were lifted Sunday afternoon when Cal Fire announced containment had reached 92 percent. Residents were allowed to return home — and in some unfortunate cases, to return to what’s left of their home.
Some evacuation orders and warnings were lifted earlier Saturday afternoon as fire crews increased the West Fire’s containment to 82 percent.
Cal Fire said firefighters, San Diego Gas & Electric representatives and AT&T workers would continue to work in the affected areas.
The fire damaged the electrical system servicing several communities in the East County. San Diego Gas & Electric officials said the outage affected more than 3,000 customers in the communities of Dehesa, Alpine, Rancho Palo Verde, Harbison Canyon, West Descanso, Boulder Creek, Glen Oaks, West Alpine and Viejas.
Two circuits were out due to smoke damage, according to SDG&E. One circuit was de-energized as a precaution, a spokesperson for the utility told NBC 7. SDG&E said several power poles were also damaged.
As of 7 p.m. Sunday, power was back on for more than 500 customers. SDG&E was continuing to work through the weekend to restore power to the rest of Alpine.
The county Department of Environmental Health issued a Boil Water Advisory for the community until further notice due to water system damage caused by the West Fire.
A local assistance shelter would be available at the Alpine Library on Monday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. San Diego County representatives and other organizations will be there to help residents with the rebuilding and recovery process.
In the densely populated area, firefighters’ greatest concern was hot spots in between structures that were still a threat.
“We’re keeping everything out here throughout the night to mitigate all of those hot spots that are within the fire perimeter,” Pina said Friday.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.
One Alpine firefighter suffered slight burns to the side of his face and spent the night in the hospital but was said to be in very good spirits. Another firefighter of an unknown agency also suffered heat-related injuries.
Cal Fire Deputy Director Mike Mohler said Friday the weather would be one of the major factors in fighting this fire.
“We have put everything on this,” Mohler said, adding that the fire was under a “no divert” order meaning aircraft could not be called off the Alpine fire to another fire.
An evacuation center was established at Viejas Casino at 5000 Willows Road as the entire community at Alpine Oaks Estate was immediately evacuated, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said.
Overnight accommodations were set up at Los Coches Creek Middle School at 9669 Dunbar Lane, El Cajon.
If there’s an evacuation, your family should already be prepared, Mohler said, and you should plan to leave early.
“Firefighters need to get in there and protect your property,” he said.
Crews with the Cleveland National Forest Service, Heartland Fire and Cal Fire were working under difficult conditions Friday with temperatures around 108 degrees and humidity between 7 and 11 percent. Winds were about 15 miles per hour with some gusts up to 30 mph.
Anyone who needed help moving animals was asked to contact the county at (619) 498-2361.
Lakeside Rodeo at 12584 Mapleview Street was accepting livestock, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Alpine is a small community in the foothills east of San Diego located approximately 24 miles from downtown. The population is estimated at just over 14,000.
The fire sparked as crews were battling a brush fire that was moving at a dangerous rate of spread in Dulzura. The Building Fire had scorched about 10 acres and had burned one structure.
Photo Credit: NBC 7
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Source: NBC San Diego