Crews battle Chariot Fire for fourth consecutive day: Thousands of acres burned in Mount Laguna area

MOUNT LAGUNA, Calif. - Crews battled for a fourth day Tuesday to contain an East County wildfire that blackened about 7,055 acres and destroyed scores of mountain cabins and vacation trailers southeast of Julian.

The so-called Chariot Fire was 40 percent as of 6 p.m. Tuesday and continued to spread over back-country terrain in the Mount Laguna area, according to Cal Fire.

Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler told 10News 120 structures have been destroyed. A damage inspection team will be out on Wednesday to determine what kind of structures they were

On Monday, the conflagration pushed across Sunrise Highway from the east and tore through Al Bahr Shrine Camp, gutting a lodge, social hall and about 10 log cabins, all built in the 1920s, along with 85 or more residential trailers, said Arnold Korey, recorder for the club.

"The fire has reached Sunrise Highway in the Cottonwood Canyon area," Mohler said in a statement. "It burned through the Al Bahr Shrine Camp ... The fire is now well established on the west side of Sunrise Highway."

A nearby lodge operated by the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club also was lost, authorities reported.

A representative for the Al Bahr Mount Laguna Shrine Camp told 10News that a volunteer firefighter said 23 hard structures such as homes and sheds have burned, along with over 80 temporary structures, including trailers.

Flames have continued to move to the west since Saturday, driven by erratic winds, according to Mohler.

The official count of damaged or destroyed structures could increase, Cal Fire officials said.

San Bernardino Fire Department Battalion Chief Tom Hannemann was noticeably saddened by the loss of property.

"It's our mission," Hannemann explained. "We get signed on to the fire department to save life and property. Life being first, obviously, and property second. You come in here after the fact, and you see everybody's personal belongings being lost. [You] try to pick up where the fire hasn't been and try to save what's left."

The fire stopped just before burning a memorial honoring the 19 firefighters who lost their lives in the Yarnell Fire in Arizona, which had a flag at half mast. Crews tell 10News it was there when they pulled up.

"Their commitment, their sacrifice … it's always in the back of everybody's mind," Hannemann said.

Amid all the damage at the nearby Al Bahr Shrine Camp, an American flag stood tall and untouched by the fire.

"In the middle of all this devastation, Old Glory is still standing on one of the flagpoles," Hannemann said.

As of early Tuesday, the blaze was well established west of the rural highway, which was closed in its entirety, according to Cal Fire and the California Highway Patrol. About 2,100 personnel were fighting the flames from the ground and air. Authorities said 108 fire engines, 12 helicopters, four air tankers, 19 bulldozers and 25 water trucks were sent to area.

Five crew members have suffered heat exhaustion and other minor injuries while fighting the fire, which erupted for unknown reasons early Saturday afternoon near Chariot Mountain and Butterfield Ranch.

Authorities cleared everyone out of 20 structures potentially in the path of the flames Sunday night and from 100 others the next morning.

The evacuation zone as of Tuesday morning covered Sunrise Highway from mile marker 17 to 29, Mohler said.

The American Red Cross has been running an emergency shelter for the displaced residents and campers at Joan MacQueen Middle School on Tavern Road in Alpine.

Aiding Cal Fire in battling the blaze, handling evacuations and working road closures were the U.S. Forest Service; California State Parks and Highway Patrol; and San Diego County Fire Authority and Sheriff's Department.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.





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