SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Efforts stretched into a seventh day Friday to contain a wildfire that has blackened thousands of acres in rural eastern San Diego County, leveling at least 30 homes, dozens of outbuildings and forcing widespread evacuations.
As of 6 p.m. Friday, crews had the sprawling burn area southeast of Alpine about 55% contained, according to Cal Fire. Firefighters remained particularly focused on its western and northern flanks, where smoldering hot spots were posing the most immediate remaining structural threats, the state agency reported.
The conflagration, dubbed the Valley Fire, has blackened 17,665 acres, destroyed 30 residences and 29 auxiliary structures, damaged 11 other buildings and left two firefighters with minor injuries.
Friday, all evacuation orders, warnings, and road closures had been lifted, according to CAL FIRE San Diego. Non-residents are asked to avoid the area.
Cleveland National Forest remains under an Emergency Forest Closure order until conditions improve for future visitors.
Residents returning to the area are asked to exercise extreme caution around trees, power poles, and other tall objects that may have been weakened by the fire. San Diego Sheriff's Department has increased patrols in the area to prevent looting and provide public safety, CAL FIRE added.
The blaze erupted for unknown reasons early Saturday afternoon off Spirit Trail and Carveacre Road in Japatul Valley and spread rapidly through tinder-dry vegetation amid sweltering heat and high winds, according to Cal Fire. More than 1,000 local, state, federal and military firefighters have battled the blaze by ground and aboard firefighting aircraft, officials said.
Evacuation orders remained in effect Thursday evening for the back- country communities of Carveacre, Japatul Valley, Lawson Valley and Lyons Valley. Residents of Alpine, Barrett Junction, Descanso, Dulzura, Pine Valley, Potrero and Viejas were advised to be prepared to clear out of their homes on short notice if serious flare-ups occurred near their neighborhood.
"We would encourage everybody to stay out of those areas," sheriff's Lt. Tony O'Boyle told reporters during a briefing Thursday morning. "Just because you don't see smoke or flames doesn't mean there aren't hazards in there. And there are -- downed power lines, gas leaks, unstable boulders and hot spots."
Some roadways in and around the burn zone have been reopened to residents only, the lieutenant said.
"Please, folks, if you're not from the area, stay away," O'Boyle said. "It's not a time to be getting photographs. It's not a time to be flying drones. It's not a time to be getting video."
A shelter for displaced residents was in operation at Steele Canyon in Spring Valley. Lakeside Rodeo Arena was available to shelter horses, and those in need of a safe place to board pets or livestock until the wildfire is extinguished also were encouraged to make use of one of two San Diego County Animal Services shelters, in Bonita and Spring Valley.
Fire-related power outages kept about 142 addresses in the vicinity of the blaze without electrical service Friday morning, and possibly for several more days, according to SDG&E.
Due to smoke drifting over much of the county because of the blaze, the San Diego County Pollution Control District advised that air-quality levels were unhealthy in parts of the region and advised people to limit outdoor activities until conditions improve.
As the Valley Fire spread, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for San Diego County, a move intended to free up federal relief funds.
On Wednesday afternoon, the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ratify a local emergency proclamation issued Sunday in response to the Valley Fire. The action will provide monies to address damage resulting from the blaze and make the region eligible for potential federal and state resources that would help repair roadways and other public infrastructure, and reimburse emergency-response costs, according to county officials.
During Thursday's news conference, District 2 County Supervisor Dianne Jacob urged East County residents to put together an emergency "go kit" of supplies in case of evacuation orders, as well as download the SD Emergency App and sign up for crisis notifications at ReadySanDiego.org.
She advised those who have lost their homes or other property to the wildfire to call the County Assistance Hotline at 858-715-2200 or email valleyfirerecovery.@firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, a "one-stop shop" county assistance center for victims of the blaze will be operating at Rancho San Diego Library, 11555 Via Rancho San Diego, Jacob told reporters. The services will be available Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Mondays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. until further notice.
Those who would like to help victims of the fire can make donations to a disaster-relief fund implemented by the San Diego Foundation, which can be accessed online at sdcountyrecovery.com.