Update: 2:30 p.m. Sept. 26:
The 2,851-acre Shockey Fire, which has claimed a man’s life and destroyed 11 backcountry homes in rural southeastern San Diego County, is expected to be fully contained today.
With the fire’s expansion having slowed considerably, firefighters were gaining the upper hand by Tuesday afternoon, according to a Cal Fire recorded update. By evening, crews were being demobilized and by this morning, the Campo-area fire was 95 percent contained, the agency reported.
A stretch of state Route 94 that had been closed from Shockey Truck Trail to the U.S.-Mexico border was open once again. All Mountain Empire School District classes, which were canceled Monday, resumed Tuesday.
The blaze broke out off Shockey Truck Trail and state Route 94 around noon Sunday and within several hours, officials were urging residents of about 80 homes potentially in the path of the flames to evacuate.
About 2:30 p.m. Monday, emergency crews found the body of a retirement-age resident in the charred ruins of his Tierra del Sol Road house, sheriff’s officials said. Neighbors said the disabled victim had decided to ignore the call to clear out of the neighborhood, opting to take his chances staying.
Under state law, evacuation orders — even when deemed mandatory, as they were in this case — cannot be forced on those who refuse to comply.
A dozen evacuees spent Sunday night at an American Red Cross shelter set up at Mountain Empire High School, and half that number stayed the following night.
As of 7:30 p.m. Monday, residents of two of the three evacuated communities — Boulevard and Jewel Valley — had been allowed to return to their homes. Those who live in the Tierra del Sol area were able to follow suit late this afternoon.
A total of 955 personnel battled the blaze, according to Cal Fire.
Aiding the state agency in the effort were the county Sheriff’s Department, Campo Indian Reservation Fire Department, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Border Patrol.
Two crew members suffered injuries while working the lines, Cal Fire reported. At least one of the injuries was minor, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said.
In addition to the 11 homes burned to the ground, two others were damaged and 14 outbuildings were destroyed, according to Cal Fire, which earlier had said that 20 homes had been razed. The fire also destroyed 14 vehicles, Cal Fire reported.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized funding to help state and local agencies defray the costs of fighting the blaze. The FEMA allocation will reimburse up to 75 percent of eligible expenses.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Update: 9 a.m., Sept. 25:
The Shockey Fire has grown to 2,851 acres and was threatening 35 homes in addition to the 20 homes and 15 outbuildings it already had destroyed, but containment increased to 55 percent, authorities said.
The fire claimed the life of a disabled 82-year-old man, whose body was discovered about 2:30 p.m. Monday in the 1100 block of Tierra del Sol Road, sheriff’s officials said. Neighbors told sheriff’s officials the man, whose name was being withheld, had decided to ignore the evacuation order he received Sunday afternoon.
A body was found Monday in the charred ruins of a home gutted by a 2,000-acre East County wildfire that has destroyed at least 20 residences, damaged 10 others, and forced scores of evacuations.
Deputies and firefighters were searching for a missing 82-year-old man when they found the body in the rural Tierra del Sol community about 2:30 p.m., Cal Fire reported. It was not immediately clear if the remains were those of the resident who had been unaccounted for after the Shockey Fire swept through the neighborhood.
About 80 Campo-area homes remained threatened Monday afternoon by the blaze, which erupted for unknown reasons off Shockey Truck Trail and State Route 94 about noon Sunday.
The fire was 10 percent contained Monday afternoon and continuing to move eastward, toward desert terrain, said Richard Cordova, a fire captain with the state agency. About 365 firefighters were working to quell the blaze, he said.
Warm, windy weather was adding to the crews’ challenges. In the early evening Sunday, temperatures were still in the high 80s and winds were blowing at around 20 mph. It was slightly cooler Monday, but gusty conditions persisted.
About two hours after the blaze began spreading, authorities started directing residents of about 80 homes in Boulevard, Jewel Valley, and Tierra del Sol to quickly pack up some essential belongings and clear out. Word went out largely via the county’s “reverse 911” emergency telephone system.
Though the evacuations were deemed mandatory, state law prohibits authorities from forcing residents from their homes, even in an emergency. It was unclear how many residents complied.
American Red Cross set up a shelter for evacuees at Mountain Empire High School in Pine Valley. Classes at all Mountain Empire School District campuses were canceled Monday, said Paul Mallon, director of operations for the district.
In addition to damaging or destroying more than two dozen homes, the blaze has leveled 15 outbuildings and damaged overhead power lines in the area, causing a blackout that initially affected about 135 addresses in Live Oak Springs, Boulevard and Jacumba. By late Monday afternoon, San Diego Gas & Electric had restored service to all but four of those customers, and the remainder were expected to be back on line Monday night.
The fire also forced the closure of Jewel Valley Road at Highway 80, and Shasta Way and Tierra del Sol Road at SR-94.
A total of 57 engines, six air tankers, six helicopters, five bulldozers and nine water trucks were assigned to the lines, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said. About two dozen deputies were assisting the fire crews, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Jan Caldwell.
Monday morning, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized funding to help fight the Shockey Fire. The decision makes FEMA funding available to reimburse 75 percent of eligible firefighting costs, according to the federal agency.