Firefighters contain blaze in El Monte Valley

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At 2:58 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, Cal Fire San Diego launched the first tweet of a series that would soon become hashtag #ElMonteFire on social media and a real, living nightmare for the people who live in El Monte Valley in Lakeside.

The fire started on half an acre at the 1400 block of El Monte Road, according to Cal Fire.

At 2:58 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, Cal Fire San Diego launched the first tweet of a series that would soon become hashtag #ElMonteFire on social media and a real, living nightmare for the people who live in El Monte Valley in Lakeside.

The fire started on half an acre at the 1400 block of El Monte Road, according to Cal Fire.

“Moderate rate of spread in the river bottom,” Cal Fire tweeted out. By 3:42 p.m., another tweet announced, “The forward rate of the spread has been stopped. Firefighters to remain at scene to strengthen containment lines and mop up.”

Present in the valley during the fire, Preston Fouts, Battalion Chief for Cal Fire San Diego said the fire was being contained.

“When units arrived on scene we found a small fire burning within the river drainage and with the assistance of our aircrews and ground crews we are holding on about 8 acres,” he said.

More than 50 inmates and other 50 firefighters were dispatched in the valley along with two helicopters and one fix wing plane.

The operation followed two steps. First, the aircrews had to put out the fire before the ground crews proceeded to“mop up” the land by digging deeply under the vegetation to uncover any underground fire.

Bernie Molloy, Division Chief with Lakeside Fire Department, said they were not able to confirm who owns the land.

“We are not sure who is owning what is in this area,” he said. “There’s an easement and then the drainage area and a lot of owners in the valley.”

Molloy said the final measurement of the land affected by the fire was 6.625 acres and his department started an investigation into what caused it.

The fire reached up to the fence of the Attig’s family property.

“We’ve heard suspicions that there were four young boys who came running out of the river bottom and yelled that we accidentally started a fire so we are not sure,” said Darcy Attig. “We did not see anything, that’s just what we’ve heard when we were on our way down there. We’ve heard if from one neighbor and one sheriff I think was looking for the children.”

One neighbor said he thought it was a homeowner who started the fire, but Sancho Ravelo said he saw a group of teenagers that made him suspicious.

“While driving back on El Monte Road, I’d seen smoke coming from the river bed near the dairy and at the same time there was a black SUV on the side of the road with a group of teenagers, maybe three or four of them, calling frantically on their cell phones.”

Contacted about the investigation, neither Cal Fire nor the Bomb and Arson division were able to confirm any of these suspicions.

“We do have investigators on the scene that are following up with the people who live out here,” said Fouts.

Sydney Morehouse, recalled how she “was at the Polo match off of Willow Road. and when I saw the smoke I came driving over and when I pulled in all you could see was a wall of flame just on the other side of our fence property here. It was pretty overwhelming.”

All the neighbors in the area mobilized fast and took the animals to safety, then braved the flames on their own with hoses and shovels trying to put the fire out before the firemen were deployed.

The area was not evacuated. Fouts said the aircrews were used to get the hot areas knocked out which would then be followed up with by the ground crews and fire engine companies.

“We should have units committed until late this evening and following up until tomorrow morning,” he said on Sunday afternoon. “We have four crews from our McCain Valley camp that are here as well as one douser and engines from Cal Fire, San Diego Fire and Lakeside Fire.”

The firemen worked through the night until Monday at noon to clear the ground of any remaining fire. At 6:00 p.m. on Monday, Molloy with the Lakeside Fire Station confirmed there were no registered victims, no structures were affected and the area was mopped up completely.

The residents in the fire prone areas are advised to have an emergency plan in place and be ready to evacuate right away. More into on the Cal Fire Department website at http://calfire.ca.gov/index.

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