Ramona offers refuge for animals fleeing backcountry wildfire
Update: Thursday, July 11—The fire is 70 percent contained, officials report this morning. By Wednesday evening, authorities allowed the public to return to areas south of Los Huecos Road, but locales as far north as Kwaaymii Point remained off-limits.
The Chariot Fire has blackened 7,055 acres, destroyed an estimated 120 structures — most of them campground cabins in the Mount Laguna area — and was 40 percent contained as of Wednesday morning.
According to reports, among those structures burned was the 90-year-old lodge at the Al Bahr Shrine Camp at Mount Laguna.
Of the nearly 2,150 fire personnel battling the backcountry blaze off Sunrise Highway, about nine miles southeast of Julian, five were reported to have minor injuries that included heat exhaustion, the state fire agency said.
Evacuations were in effect for the fourth consecutive day Wednesday and were extended on Sunrise Highway from Old Highway 80. The El Prado, Horse Heaven and Laguna campgrounds, the Al Bahr Shrine Camp and the Foster Lodge remained under evacuation.
July 9, 10 a.m.—Although the Chariot Fire, which had torched 4,700 acres and was 15 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, was in the Mount Laguna area, Ramona was doing its part to aid those battling the blaze and those evacuating.
Air tankers and helicopters, including a sky crane, flew in and out of the Air Attack Base at Ramona Airport re-fueling and re-loading with retardant.
The International Equestrian Center in San Diego Country Estates was allowing evacuees to bring their horses, providing they stayed with them. A spokesperson for the center said on Tuesday no evacuated horse owners had shown up and that it appeared they headed in a different direction.
Creek Hollow Ranch in Ramona was designated as a shelter for animals evacuated by county Animal Services.
Cal Fire reported Tuesday morning that the fire had reached Sunrise Highway in the Cottonwood Canyon area and burned through the Al Bahr Shrine Camp, destroying the conference center. Evacuations were in place along Sunrise Highway from mile marker 17 to 29, and Sunrise Highway was closed from Interstate 8 to Highway 79.
“The fire is now well established on the west side of Sunrise Highway. There has been a significant increase in acreage on the Cleveland National Forest,” Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler stated in a release.
The fire continued to be a potential threat to Foster Lodge, Mt. Laguna residences and campgrounds, including El Prado, Horse Heaven and Laguna, Mohler said Tuesday, adding that eight structures were destroyed, 120 structures threatened and five injuries reported.
Personnel fighting the flames from the air and ground totaled nearly 1,400. Of the injuries, three were heat-related and one was a facial cut, said Mohler.
The Chariot Fire broke out for unknown reasons just before 1 p.m. Saturday, July 6, near Chariot Mountain and Butterfield Ranch, according to Cal Fire. Authorities cleared everyone 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 fire jumped that rural route and continued moving to the west, driven by erratic winds amid high temperatures, said Mohler.
The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter for displaced residents and campers at Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Aiding Cal Fire in battling the blaze, handling evacuations and working road closures were U.S. Forest Service, California Highway Patrol and State Parks, San Diego County Fire Authority, and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
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