A Cal Fire crew makes its way back to trucks on the sixth day of firefighting in the Valley Fire. Photo by Chris Stone

Firefighters battling the Valley Fire in rural eastern San Diego County worked to take advantage of lighter winds and higher humidity Saturday in an attempt to increase containment of the blaze.

The fire, southeast of Alpine, has burned 17,665 acres, destroyed 30 residences and 31 outbuildings, damaged 11 other structures, injured three firefighters and was 69% contained Saturday.

At noon Friday, Cal Fire announced that all evacuations and road closures necessitated by the conflagration, dubbed the Valley Fire, had been lifted.

On Saturday morning, the county announced the reopening of the Lake Morena and Potrero campgrounds that had been closed during the evacuation orders. Campsites were available to book at http://reservations.sdparks.org.

However, the Cleveland National Forest 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 blaze erupted for unknown reasons early Sept. 5 off Spirit Trail and Carveacre Road and spread rapidly through tinder-dry vegetation amid sweltering heat and high winds, Cal Fire officials said.

Cal Fire cautioned those returning to the fire-ravaged area Friday 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 was increasing its patrols in the area to ensure public safety and prevent looting.

Officials advised that motorists in the area could 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.

About 140 San Diego Gas & Electric customers in Alpine, Barrett Lake, Dehesa, Lyons Valley and Rancho Palo Verde were without power. Electricity was restored to many customers on Friday and the rest were expected to be back online by Tuesday afternoon, the utility said.

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

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

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.

–City News Service

Updated at 10:15 a.m. Sept. 12, 2020

Chris Jennewein

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