Chariot Fire Grows to More Than 7,000 Acres

As of 7 p.m. Thursday, officials had lifted all evacuations for residents

The so-called "Chariot Fire" that has been burning for several days on Mount Laguna is now 90 percent contained, fire officials said Friday morning.

As of 7 p.m. Thursday, Cal Fire officials also said all evacuations for residents in the area had been lifted.

On Tuesday, firefighters battling the Chariot Fire were busy building a fire break to protect businesses and homes threatened by the 7,055-acre fire.

Earlier on, there were mandatory evacuations in place for residents along Sunrise Highway from State Route 79 to Old Highway 80. See Cal Fire Incident Map

On Wednesday, Cal Fire lifted the mandatory evacuations for all areas south of Los Huecos Road. Evacuation orders remained in place for areas north of Los Huecos Road and Kwaaymii Point, but those were lifted Thursday evening as fire crews continued to make progress.

Cal Fire said 120 buildings have been damaged or destroyed.

David Super, owner of Laguna Mountain Sports, never left the mountain where he's lived for 10 years, but said he's ready to leave at a moment's notice.

Bulldozers dropped off trailers in front of his store and headed up the hill east of Sunrise Highway Tuesday. Super said they're creating a fire break there.

He worries the fire may be burning in the canyon on the eastern slope, and if the wind blows to the west, it could burn like it did on Monday.

"Fire travels so quickly uphill. So by the time that we find out that's happening, it might be too late to keep it from getting all the way up here," he said. "But just in case, they're going to get ahead of the game and cut a fire break there."

There were 2,100 firefighters fighting the fire Tuesday. That number is an increase of more than 400 from Monday's crew.

Fire broke out around 1 p.m. Saturday at Chariot Canyon Road and Oriflamme Canyon Road, nine to 10 miles southeast of Julian, just east of Sunrise Highway.

Check Chariot Fire Information Page

The fast-moving wildfire in the remote location proved difficult for firefighters to get a handle on. The boundaries of the fire grew quickly Monday as the winds from the desert floor collided with those from the ocean causing erratic conditions.

El Prado, Horse Heaven and Laguna Campgrounds were evacuated, as well as the Al Bahr Shrine Camp and the Foster Lodge.

Al Bahr Shriners camp took a direct hit from the fire with reports of propane tanks exploding on the property.

The camp lost a total of 23 buildings to the fire, including a 99-year-old lodge. Also gone are homes that have been used by local families for more than 60 years.

Several residents felt safe leaving their belongings because the old campground had survived so many previous wildfires, according to Deborah Chandler, who started visiting the campground in 1973.

San Diego County Office of Emergency Services

The evacuation order encompasses roughly 160 homes that Cal Fire said are mainly seasonal homes. Only 35 people have had to leave their homes so far.

Elizabeth Bispo, her husband Al and their dog, Buster were among the evacuees.

"As a Red Cross volunteer, I'm out at national disasters all the time. Just came back from Oklahoma, the tornadoes," Bispo said.

She was told to grab her belongings and head down the mountain.

"We took some favorite things out of the cabin, some special things and if it burns it burns, but we're hoping it will be spared," she said.

Among the civilian holdouts was Tom McWay, owner of the Laguna Mountain Lodge.

"I packed up some of the artifacts from the Mountain, tried to save some of that," he said.

Family Disaster Plan Checklist

An evacuation center was established at the Joan MacQueen Middle School at 2001 Tavern Road in Alpine by the San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross. Monday night, the shelter provided a place to stay for four residents.

“If you live in that area and you see smoke, be ready and have that plan,” said Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler. “We ask that if you decide to leave, do so early-- not only for public safety, but for the first responders in that area."

Four people have been injured fighting the fire. A total of 1,612 fire personnel have helped battle the blaze since it first sparked.

The cause is under investigation.

Estimated total containment as of Tuesday morning was July 14, according to Mohler.

View Chariot Fire in a larger map

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