Cal Fire: Chariot Fire burns 4,700 acres, at least 8 structures burned

Fire is 15 percent contained, agency says

JULIAN, Calif. - Firefighters labored for a third straight day Monday to subdue a wildfire that has blackened about 4,700 acres in rugged terrain southeast of Julian, damaging or destroying at least eight structures and forcing the evacuation of scores of back-country homes along with several campgrounds.

The blaze erupted for unknown reasons shortly before 1 p.m. Saturday east of Sunrise Highway in the Chariot Mountain area and was about 15 percent contained as of early Monday evening, authorities reported.

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By then, decreasing winds and cooling temperatures were allowing the personnel to make better progress in slowing the spread of the flames, said Mike Mohler, a captain with the state agency.

Mohler told 10News late Monday, "Our objective right now is to increase that containment line, bring it up before we may see either a wind shift early in the morning and then again we have weather predicted tomorrow that could be possibly monsoonal, thunderstorms and lightning, so the more containment we get of the fire, the less of the risk of it blowing up."

It was unclear what type of buildings were engulfed by the blaze Monday afternoon, though they were in the area of several campgrounds outfitted with cabins and lodges, Mohler said.

10News learned eight structures on campgrounds on or near the Al Bahr Shrine camp have burned.

As the weekend came to a close, the fire was posing imminent threats to rural communities near Mount Laguna, according to Cal Fire.

Authorities cleared residents out of 20 residences potentially in the path of the flames Sunday night and from 100 others Monday morning, when the evacuation zone was widened to cover about three miles along Sunrise Highway.

Several hours later, the flames jumped that rural route and continued moving to the west, driven by erratic winds and high temperatures, Mohler said.

The north-south roadway was then closed between state Route 79 and Interstate 8.

Evacuations were also ordered for Sunrise Highway between Milemarker 17 to 29.

Linda and Chris Kenney live a few miles to the south on Mt. Laguna Drive, and had just gotten the word to evacuate.

Linda Kenney told 10 News, "We have four dogs and that's all we're gonna take. We just moved up here a year and a half ago so this is all new to us."

The Kenneys could see and smell the smoke. Chris Kenney said they were ready to head to San Diego.

"We've got water, drinks, valuables, clothes; things we need to get by a couple of days so yup, we're ready to run," he said.

Mt. Laguna Lodge owner Tom McWay stayed on after sending all his guests packing on Sunday.

"My truck's loaded with artifacts. That was the first stuff I grabbed; the history of the mountain and the store and I put it in the truck and it's off the mountain already," McWay said.

The Horse Heaven Campground in the Cleveland National Forest was also evacuated, along with the Al Bahr Shrine, El Prado and Laguna and campgrounds and the Sierra Club's Foster Lodge.

The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter for the displaced residents and campers at Joan McQueen Middle School on Tavern Road in Alpine.

An animal evacuation center is located at the International Equestrian Center at 16911 Gunstage Rd. in Ramona. Anyone who brings animals to the center will have to stay with them and take care of them.

IMAGES - Crews battle Chariot Fire:

About 1,300 firefighters were working the lines this morning by ground and air, including personnel who had to be flown in by helicopter due to the steep and remote nature of much of the territory where the blaze was burning.

Four crew members have suffered minor injuries -- three of them heat-related, the other a facial cut -- while battling the so-called Chariot Fire, authorities said.

Aiding Cal Fire in the effort were the U.S. Forest Service, California State Parks, and the county Fire Authority and Sheriff's Department.

The California Highway Patrol closed state Route 79 at Sunrise Highway and blocked off the latter roadway at Olde Highway 80.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.




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