Fire Burns Near Ranchita

Fire Burns Near Ranchita (fox5sandiego.com / August 15, 2012)

SAN DIEGO -- Evacuation orders were lifted Friday for hundreds of Ranchita and San Felipe residents as more than 1,500 firefighters appeared to be gaining the upper hand on lightning-sparked wildfires that have blackened 22,846 acres in rural East County over the past five days, authorities said.

The so-called Vallecito Lightning Complex consists of six wildfires, four of which were contained and two that continued burning out of control, though at a slower pace than earlier in the week, according to Cal Fire.

Late Tuesday afternoon, an estimated 400 residents in Ranchita and San Felipe received word via the county's "reverse 911'' that they needed to clear out of their homes as flames threatened structures, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said, noting that the evacuation order remained in effect until early today, when the threat to structures was lessened.

There have been no reports of structural damage in the affected areas, but four firefighters have suffered minor injuries, including heat exhaustion and a foot problem, according to Cal Fire.

Of the two still growing, the so-called Wilson Fire stood at 11,691 acres and 75 percent containment as of 7 a.m., while the Stewart Fire was at 10,630 acres and 90 percent containment, the state firefighting agency reported.

"Firefighters made significant progress on fire containment overnight,'' Mohler said in a statement. "Firefighters will continue their efforts to fully contain both the Stewart and Wilson fires.''

Cal Fire estimated the cost of fighting the wildfires in rural East County this week at more than $5 million to date.

A total of 1,552 fire personnel were battling the flames by air and ground. The effort involved 85 fire engines, 48 fire crews, 14 helicopters, 13 bulldozers and 29 water tenders.

Of the fire personnel assigned to the Vallecito Lightning Complex, 1,108 work for Cal Fire. Other agencies involved include the U.S. Forest Service, the California Conservation Corps, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and various fire departments within San Diego County.

Assisting the firefighters are personnel from the California Emergency Management Agency, San Diego County Sheriff's Department, Caltrans, San Diego Humane Society, American Red Cross and the California Highway Patrol.

Earlier this week, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar sent eight helicopters to help shuttle personnel to the fire lines and make water drops.

In addition to the still-growing Wilson and Stewart fires, the Vallecito Lightning Complex consists of the Vallecito, Cooper, Wynola and Shoots fires.

The Vallecito Fire kicked off the six-blaze cluster Sunday night, blackening 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, the Shoots Fire, erupted early Thursday. It scorched less than an acre before crews knocked it down.

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