Firefighters grab breakfast Friday before heading to the fire line. Courtesy Cal Fire

Crews labored for a seventh day Friday to contain the smoldering remnants of a wildfire that blackened thousands of acres in rural eastern San Diego County, leveling dozens of homes and forcing widespread evacuations.

As of Friday evening., crews had the sprawling burn area southeast of Alpine about 55% contained, according to Cal Fire. At noon, the state agency announced that all evacuations and road closures necessitated by the conflagration, dubbed the Valley Fire, had been lifted.

Cleveland National Forest, however, remained closed to the public until further notice “to protect natural resources and provide for the safety of the public and firefighters,” Cal Fire advised.

“This closure will stay in place until conditions improve and we are confident that national-forest visitors can recreate safely,” according to the state agency.

The inferno has blackened 17,665 acres, destroyed 30 residences and 31 outbuildings, damaged 11 other structures and left three firefighters with injuries.

The blaze erupted for unknown reasons early Saturday afternoon off Spirit Trail and Carveacre Road in Japatul Valley and spread rapidly through tinder-dry vegetation amid sweltering heat and high winds, according to Cal Fire.

More than 1,000 local, state, federal and military firefighters have battled the blaze by ground and aboard firefighting aircraft.

Cal Fire cautioned those returning to the fire-ravaged area to “use extreme caution around trees, power poles and other tall objects or structures that may have been weakened” by the blaze. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department will increase its patrols in the area to ensure public safety and prevent looting, according to Cal Fire.

Friday afternoon, officials advised that motorists in the area may face traffic disruptions due to the continued presence of firefighters, law enforcement personnel and utility workers still working there. Non-residents were asked to avoid locales in and around the burn zone if possible.

Late Friday afternoon, 139 San Diego Gas & Electric customers remained without power in Alpine, Barrett Lake, Dehesa, Lyons Valley, and Rancho Palo Verde. Ten of them were expected to be back online by 5 p.m. Saturday, and the rest by late Tuesday afternoon, according to San Diego Gas & Electric.

At one point, during the height of the emergency, nearly 3,400 East County customers were without power.

A shelter for those who lost their homes to the fire was in operation at Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley until Friday evening, when CalFire report it had closed.

Lakeside Rodeo Arena was available to shelter horses, and those still in need of a safe place to board pets or livestock were encouraged to make use of one of two county animal- services shelters, in Bonita and Spring Valley.

Due to smoke drifting over much of the San Diego region, the county Pollution Control District advised that the air quality may be unhealthy in some local communities and advised people to limit outdoor activities until conditions improve.

Last Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for San Diego County due to the Valley Fire, a move intended to free up federal relief funds.

On Wednesday afternoon, the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ratify a local emergency proclamation issued Sunday in response to the blaze. The action will provide monies to address the resulting damage and make the region eligible for potential federal and state resources that would help repair roadways and other public infrastructure, and reimburse emergency-response costs, according to county officials.

County officials encouraged people who have lost their homes or other property to the wildfire to call for assistance at 858-715-2200 or email valleyfirerecovery.@sdcounty@ca.gov.

Additionally, a county assistance center for victims of the blaze will be in operation at Rancho San Diego Library, 11555 Via Rancho San Diego, on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Mondays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. until further notice.

Those who would like to help victims of the fire can make donations to a disaster-relief fund implemented by the San Diego Foundation, which can be accessed online at sdcountyrecovery.com.

Updated at 1:40 p.m., 6:05 p.m. and 7:35 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11, 2020

– City News Service

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