Firefighters battle the Valley Fire. Steve Russo/via REUTERS

The Valley Fire in Japatul Valley near Alpine continued to burn on Labor Day, scorching 17,345 acres with just 3% containment, and causing four new evacuation orders, authorities reported Monday evening.

The fire was largely burning out of control, bolstered by wind gusts of up to 25 mph. The blaze grew in the Lawson Valley and Carveacre areas, and posed an immediate threat to Loveland Reservoir and the surrounding areas, Cal Fire reported Monday morning.

A new evacuation order for Corte Madera, south of Pine Valley went into effect Monday afternoon, Cal Fire said. The mandate followed morning evacuation orders for Corral Canyon off-road area, Bob Cat Meadows and Los Pinos.

The U.S. Forest Service also announced the closure of many national forests due to the ongoing statewide fire danger, including Cleveland National Forest. The park will close at 5 p.m. Monday, and the order will be re- evaluated daily as conditions change.

The extent of the Valley Fire on Monday morning

Officials were forecasting cooler and lighter winds Monday that might decrease the spread of fire, yet Santa Ana winds expected Tuesday will likely spread the blaze, with 40 mph gusts through Wednesday, according to Cal Fire.

Structures were being threatened in Carveacre, Lawson Valley, Wood Valley, Lyons Valley, Deer Horn Valley and Sycuan Indian Reservation, Cal Fire San Diego said. Some 11 buildings have been destroyed, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Due to the amount of acreage burned, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for San Diego County. The declaration will free up federal funds to be used in response to this and other fires. Additionally, through an agreement between Cal Fire San Diego and the U.S. Navy, six military aircraft from the Navy Third Fleet and the First Marine Expeditionary Force were available to fight the blaze Monday.

The blaze began burning around 2:15 p.m. Saturday off Spirit Trail and Japatul Road.

Cal Fire reported that 424 personnel were battling the fire, and resources included 53 fire engines, 14 helicopters, and eight air tankers.

The Orange County Fire Authority dispatched a “strike team” of five fire engines and two battalion chiefs to assist their southern colleagues on Saturday, joining crews from the Cleveland National Forest and Cal Fire.

Cal Fire reported that there was a threat to Sunrise Powerlink, which supplies a large portion of San Diego County’s electricity.

“Firefighters are working against extreme fire behavior with wind- driven runs and long-range spotting,” the agency said.

As of noon Monday, San Diego Gas & Electric reported power outages affecting 3,382 customers in the fire area.

Communities affected, when the Valley Fire damaged the electric system, were Dulzura, Potrero, Campo, Jamul, North Jamul, West Jamul, Lyons Valley, Barrett Lake, Dehesa, Alpine, West Alpine, Rancho Palo Verde, Harbison Canyon, Glen Oaks, Jamacha and Indian Springs. Power was not expected to be restored until noon Tuesday, SDG&E reported.

A giant Boeing 747 air tanker drops retardant on the Valley Fire. Courtesy Cal Fire

The utility said it has crews staged at the site of the fire and will work to restore power once Cal Fire determines it is safe to enter the area.

The San Diego County Pollution Control District issued an updated smoke advisory Monday, saying air quality levels were unhealthy in areas of heavy smoke.

“Due to the Valley Fire burning near Alpine in San Diego County, areas of smoke are affecting parts of the county,” district officials said. “While ground level smoke effects are minimal from the coast to the inland valleys, the smoke continues to be widespread high above ground level over San Diego County — much of which is blowing down from fires to our north, rather than coming from the Valley Fire.

“In the proximity of the fire and downwind of the fire, air quality can reach unhealthful levels. In areas of heavy smoke, assume that air quality levels are unhealthy for sensitive groups to unhealthy for all individuals. In areas with minor smoke impacts, assume that air quality levels range from moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

The Valley Fire moves along a hill on Monday. Courtesy Cal Fire

Meteorological conditions will continue to improve air quality and shift the trajectory of the smoke toward the east and northeast into Tuesday morning, pollution control officials said.

“In areas where you smell smoke it is advised that you limit physical and outdoor activity,” officials said. “If possible, stay indoors to limit your exposure to fine particulate matter and ozone, especially those residents with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children.”

About 4 p.m. Saturday, Cal Fire said the community of Carveacre Road was threatened and under evacuation orders. An hour later, an evacuation order was issued for all of Lawson Valley. As of Monday, an evacuation order was in effect for Barrett Lake Dam, Corral Canyon off-road area, Bob Cat Meadows, Los Pinos and Corte Madera, according to Cal Fire. All evacuation orders remain in effect. The fire front was one-mile long, according to Southern California Air Operations.

The evacuation center at Joan McQueen Middle School, 2001 Tavern Road in Alpine is open, as of Monday morning, according to Cal Fire.

The evacuation center at Steele Canyon High School, 12440 Campo Road in Spring Valley, was still open Monday. The evacuation center, which allows pets, was set up by the American Red Cross, which will supply water, snacks and other items.

A temporary evacuation point for large animals is the County Animal Services South Shelter at 5821 Sweetwater Road in Bonita. Contact county animal services at 619-236-2341. Residents who need help to evacuate animals from the brushfire can call the San Diego Humane Society at 619-299-7012.

The cause of the Valley Fire is under investigation, Cal Fire said.

Updated at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 7, 2020

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.