When the fire call came just before 9:30 a.m. Monday, engines in and around Ramona responded quickly — and some stayed for nearly five hours.
With a red flag warning in effect and predictions of gusty Santa Ana winds, the firefighters had no intention of leaving any chance of a spark.
“We try to hit hard and keep everything small,” Cal Fire Capt. David Hype at Ramona Fire Station No. 81 said Monday.
A woman suffered smoke inhalation and burns to her hand and face as a result of the garage fire in the 16000 block of Swartz Canyon Road. She was taken by ambulance to the UCSD Burn Center with minor injuries, Cal Fire reported.
“She attempted to put the fire out with a fire extinguisher,” said Hypes.
She was home with a bandaged hand, Hypes said Tuesday morning. Her face burn did not require bandaging but looks like a bad sunburn, he added.
Firefighters confined the blaze to the garage and saved the woman’s home. A vehicle in the garage was destroyed, and the garage had smoke and fire damage.
Two U.S. Forest Service engines joined engines from Ramona fire stations 80, 81 and 82, an engine from Barona, and Cal Fire engines from stations at Witch Creek and Mt. Woodson.
After putting out the garage fire, “we wanted to make sure it didn’t get into the brush,” Hypes said.
Firefighters and other emergency crews were on high alert this week after projected winds and dry conditions prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning in the inland valleys and mountains that started at 6 a.m. Monday and initially was to end at 6 p.m. Tuesday. With hot, dry and windy conditions expected to continue, the weather service extended the red fire warning until Wednesday at 10 p.m.
Temperatures in Ramona were expected to hit 85 degrees Tuesday and 90 degrees Wednesday. Gusts as high as 35 mph were projected Tuesday and 20 mph yesterday. The weather service forecast winds of 5 mph today.
With two fires raging in Los Angeles County all day Monday and the governor declaring a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Ramonans waited and watched. Most of the 501 Ramona homes reported destroyed in the Witch Fire last October have not been rebuilt, and memories of the Cedar Fire in 2003 are still raw, so residents took the red flag warning seriously.
Monday afternoon, Cal Fire reported two brush fires at Camp Pendleton. The two were close to each other and, as Cal Fire expected, burned into one fire dubbed the Juliet Fire.
About 4:30 p.m., the City of Oceanside activated its AlertSanDiego notification system to 1,025 homes for mandatory evacuations, and homes on the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base were evacuated, Yvette Urrea-Moe with the county Office of Emergency Services reported.
Cal Fire reported that the Juliet Fire was about 3,000 acres and 25 percent contained Tuesday morning.
At 2:46 a.m. Tuesday, a brush fire driven by strong Santa Ana winds started at Shockey Truck Trail and Highway 94 in Campo and was moving west. By 10 a.m., the Shockey Fire was 200 acres and 70 percent contained and all evacuations were lifted except for homes within the fire’s perimeter, reported Roxanne Provaznik with Cal Fire. One firefighter was injured, and Highway 94 remained closed between Buckman Springs and Sheridan.
Evacuation centers were set up at El Camino High School in Oceanside and Mountain Empire High School and Potrero Library in the Campo area.
Also on Tuesday morning, Cal Fire reported a small brush fire at 40401 DeLuz Road that was quickly stopped, with no damage to structures.
Ground crews and aircraft fought the regional fires, and, quoting Cal Fire’s public information officer, Capt. Hypes said, “we’re cautiously optimistic” about Ramona.
“We’ve got the resources, we’ve got planes. We’re as ready as we’re going to be,” Cal Fire Capt. Don Davis said Sunday.
“We’re fully staffed and have some extra bodies on duty,” Battalion Chief Marc Hafner with the Ramona Fire Department said Tuesday. “We’re ready to go.”
After announcing this month that it would cut power to parts of Ramona and much of the backcountry in high fire-risk conditions, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) suspended the plan temporarily. If enacted, five specific high fire-risk conditions would have to exist, and, the utility estimates, about 45,000, or 3 percent, of its 1.4 million customers would be affected. A map of potential power shut-off areas was published in last week’s Sentinel.
Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD), not informed of SDG&E’s “lights out policy,” joined Valley Center’s water district in Superior Court last Friday afternoon, seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the action, said RMWD General Manager Ralph McIntosh.
“They did not take into consideration at all the implication a power outage would have on water districts,” McIntosh said Friday.
As a result of the joint action by the two water districts, the court hearing was delayed and SDG&E agreed to exempt Ramona, Valley Center, Fallbrook, Rainbow and Padre Dam districts from any possible outages during the weekend. That was extended Monday to all affected areas throughout the red flag alert.
SDG&E agreed to pay all legal fees incurred in preparing and filing the TRO petition, McIntosh said.
McIntosh planned to be at the San Diego County Water Authority meeting Tuesday, when SDG&E was expected to present a report on its “lights out” program.
“I hope there will be some clarification,” McIntosh said.
The Ramona water board was scheduled to meet in closed session before its public meeting Tuesday night to discuss the court action with its attorney.
Without electricity, the district’s pump stations in Ramona would not have power, McIntosh said. Among them would be the pump stations at Green Valley Truck Trail near Highland Valley Road, state Route 67 and Hedy Lane, Mt. Woodson and Ramona Fire Station No. 82, said McIntosh.
The district has rented three generators at a cost of nearly $12,000 a month until the end of the fire season so Ramona is not at risk, McIntosh noted.
“We had no involvement in this process until last week,” he said of SDG&E’s “lights out” plan.
SDG&E has not dropped its proactive “lights out” plan, April Bolduc, a spokesperson for the utility, said Tuesday, but suspended it through the current alert.
“We are contacting our medically sensitive customers,” she said, adding that many do not have a plan if power is shut.
SDG&E has a list of customers considered medically sensitive and telephoned and mailed information to them before announcing the “lights out” plan, but it did not hear back from all of them, said Bolduc. The utility is canvassing the county contacting the medically sensitive customers not yet heard from, she said.