Residents in Ranchita were under mandatory evacuation orders for the second consecutive day Thusday as wildfires threatened about 400 structures in the rural East County community, but some of the previously evacuated San Felipe residents were back in their homes. San Felipe area residents living south of Highway 78 can return to their homes, but those living north of 78 cannot, reports CalFire. San Felipe Road (S2) remains closed from Scissors Crossing to Montezuma Valley Road.
Lightning sparked a total of six brush fires in the area since Sunday night, including two that were only partially contained as of 6:30 a.m., according to CalFire. Three of the six were 100 percent contained by Tuesday night, and the sixth was 100 percent contained early today.
CalFire dubbed the six-blaze cluster the Vallecito Lightning Complex, consisting of the Vallecito, Wilson, Stewart, Cooper, Wynola and Shoots fires.
Combined, the fires have blackened about 15,525 acres, CalFire reported.
Creek Hollow Ranch is an evacuation site for large animals from the fire area.
The spread of the Vallecito Fire, southeast of Julian, was stopped at 519 acres, while the Cooper Fire, northeast of Julian, and the Wynola Fire, at Highway 79 and Wynola, were each halted at three acres.
The Stewart Fire had charred 7,000 acres and was 50 percent contained as of Thursday morning, and the Wilson Fire was at 8,000 acres and 65 percent containment, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said, noting the two fires were close to merging.
The Shoots Fire burned briefly, scorching less than an acre of East County brush before being halted, according to the state firefighting agency.
A total of 1,454 firefighters were battling the fires from the ground and the air, using 77 fire engines, 48 fire crews, five helicopters, eight bulldozers and 28 water tenders, Cal Fire reported.
On Wednesday, flight crews from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar answered a call from Cal Fire to join in the effort to subdue the blazes. The northern San Diego USMC base sent eight helicopters — CH-53 Super Stallions and CH-46 Sea Knights —to help shuttle personnel to the fire lines and make water drops.
Though no structure losses were reported as of early Thursday, two firefighters were injured. CalFire reported that one of the firefighters suffered from heat exhaustion. The nature of the other injury was unclear, though authorities described it as minor.
A makeshift shelter was set up at Warner Springs High School for evacuees, who were told via the county’s “reverse 911” emergency information system late Tuesday afternoon to leave their homes. San Felipe residents were part of the original evacuation area but CalFire Thursday morning reported that the order was lifted for those residents.
Road and highway closures between Borrego Springs, Julian and Ranchita were in effect due to the fires.
Highway 78 reopened Thursday midday, but S-2 was still under a hard closure between Scissors Crossing and Highway 79, CalFire reported.
Members of the public with questions about the evacuations or road closures were encouraged to call the CalFire information line at 619-590-3160 or follow the agency’s progress via Twitter, at calfiresandiego.