Firefighters snuff out signal fire set by hiker lost in East County

SAN DIEGO — A fire set by a lost hiker blackened a swath of open terrain in a remote area near Pine Valley Tuesday amid gusty, dry conditions before firefighters were able to subdue the flames.

The blaze erupted about 4 p.m. off Japatul Valley Road, near Horsethief Trailhead in Cleveland National Forest, said Olivia Walker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service. It took ground crews about 45 minutes to fully extinguish the flames, Walker said.

The fire scorched about a quarter-acre of grass, said Cindy Petrich, fire patrol with the U.S. Forest Service

The hiker told authorities he had been lost for three days after his vehicle ran out of fuel near Corral Canyon, about 10 miles away from where rescuers found him near Horsethief Trailhead off Lyons Valley Road, Petrich said. Rescuers found him lying about 10 feet from the blaze.

The man had come across other hikers, who went to a fire station to get help, Petrich said. A sheriff’s helicopter crew then went to search for the┬áman. The man told authorities he started the fire when he saw the aircraft in hopes of being rescued.

Medics provided emergency aid to the man, who appeared to be dehydrated, Walker said. His name was not released.

The fire occurred during a National Weather Service “red flag” wildfire alert, which is slated to remain in effect into the weekend due to critical combustion hazards across the Southland.