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SAN DIEGO — Last summer’s most destructive wildfire was sparked by a Bureau of Land Management Jeep that ignited dry brush in the desert just east of the Laguna Mountains, fire investigators announced Friday.

The Chariot Fire began just before 1 p.m. July 6 near Butterfield Ranch Resort and the Great Southern Overland Stage Route on land managed by the BLM, according to Cal Fire. The blaze, which burned out of control for 10 days, destroyed 149 buildings and blackened 7,055 acres. More than 2,100 firefighters from around the state eventually stopped the fire from spreading.

“It is critical that everyone be extra cautious outdoors with any activity that may cause a spark,” Cal Fire Southern Region Chief Dale Hutchinson said in a statement released this morning. “This year especially we need the public to remember that one less spark means one less wildfire.”

No major injuries occurred as a result of the Chariot Fire but a dozen firefighters were treated for minor injuries, mostly heat exhaustion, according to Cal Fire.

The majority of the structures lost were campground cabins in the Mount Laguna area.

Investigators have identified the BLM agent who was driving the Jeep Cherokee that started the fire, but he has refused to answer questions on the advice of his attorney, UT San Diego reported. The BLM completed its own investigation, but the agency has refused release it, the newspaper said.

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Chariot Fire

MOUNT LAGUNA, Calif. — Swaths of East County mountain wilderness closed to the public since last month by a 7,000-acre wildfire reopened today.

All trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas in Laguna Mountain Recreation Area are now available to visitors again, according to Cleveland National Forest officials.

On July 6, the so-called Chariot Fire erupted about nine miles southeast of Julian and began spreading over back-country terrain on the flanks of Mount Laguna. The blaze destroyed about 150 structures, mostly log cabins and trailer homes, and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate before firefighters got the flames under control.

A partial closure will remain in effect at least through Dec. 31 to allow crews to address resource protection, protection of public and private property, and public health-and-safety concerns related to the fire, according to to forestry officials.

MOUNT LAGUNA, Calif. — Thousands of firefighters worked Wednesday to finish off an East County wildfire that charred about 7,000 acres and destroyed scores of mountain cabins and other structures along the Sunrise Highway.

By late this morning, the smoldering embers of the widespread blaze near Mount Laguna were roughly 65 percent surrounded, according to Cal Fire, which predicted full containment by Sunday.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Chariot Fire

Increasing humidity levels have been a boon for the roughly 2,150 personnel dousing the remaining hot spots on foot and aboard water-dropping helicopters and air tankers dispensing chemical flame retardant, the state agency reported.

Though little to no active flame persisted, the so-called Chariot Fire was still a potential threat to some homes, as well as Foster Lodge and the Laguna, El Prado and Horse Heaven campgrounds, officials said.

While raging over back-country terrain southeast of Lake Cuyamaca, the conflagration leveled an estimated 120 structures, many of them campground cabins, and left seven firefighters with heat exhaustion and other minor injuries.

The fire erupted for unknown reasons early Saturday afternoon near Chariot Mountain. Authorities cleared everyone out of 20 structures in the path of the flames Sunday night and from 100 others the next morning.

The conflagration made a strong push across Sunrise Highway from the east on Monday and tore through Al Bahr Shrine Camp, gutting a lodge, social hall and about 10 cottages — all log structures built in the 1920s — along with 85 or more trailers that had been converted into vacation cabins.

The entire length of the north-south rural highway remained closed today, and evacuation orders for people living near it were still in effect, pending further notice. An American Red Cross emergency shelter at Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine continued aiding displaced residents.

Assisting Cal Fire in battling the blaze, handling evacuations and working road closures were the U.S. Forest Service; California Highway Patrol and State Parks; and San Diego County Fire Authority and Sheriff’s Department.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

MOUNT LAGUNA, Calif. — Nearly 2,150 firefighters battled a back country wildfire Wednesday that has blackened 7,055 acres and destroyed an estimated 120 structures, most of them campground cabins in the Mount Laguna area.

Damage from Chariot FireThe blaze — dubbed the Chariot Fire — broke out for unknown reasons just before 1 p.m. Saturday near Chariot Mountain and Butterfield Ranch, according to Cal Fire, which reported that the blaze was 40 percent contained as of Tuesday evening.

The state firefighting agency also reported that the fire has destroyed an estimated 120 structures, many of them campground cabins, and left five firefighters with heat exhaustion and other minor injuries. An additional 120 residences were threatened as of Tuesday evening, according to Cal Fire.

Evacuations were in effect for the fourth consecutive day Wednesday. Authorities cleared everyone out of 20 structures in the path of the flames Sunday night and from 100 others the next morning.

The American Red Cross has been running an emergency shelter for the displaced residents and campers at Joan MacQueen Middle School on Tavern Road in Alpine.

Aiding Cal Fire in battling the blaze, handling evacuations and working road closures were the U.S. Forest Service; California Highway Patrol and State Parks; and San Diego County Fire Authority and Sheriff’s Department.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

SAN DIEGO – A change in direction of wind aided in establishing a stronger containment line west of the Chariot Fire that has damaged over a hundred structures, fire officials said Tuesday.

The wildfire has scorched at least 7,055 acres and destroyed or damaged 120 structures in the Mount Laguna area, Cal Fire Captain Mike Mohler said. Firefighters had 40 percent containment of the blaze as of 4 p.m.

Chariot_Fire02The winds coming from the west helped firefighters in the Storm Canyon area, west of Sunrise Highway, which is the most active location of the fire, Mohler said. They predict full containment by Sunday, July 14.

Structures at Al Bahr Shrine Camp experienced the most destruction as of Tuesday, Mohler said.  The Foster Lodge, also run by the Sierra Club’s San Diego chapter, went untouched by the fire although a small lodge nearby was destroyed, he said.

The Chariot Fire, named after the area of its origin, broke out just before 1 p.m. Saturday east of Sunrise Highway, about nine miles southeast of Julian.

Evacuations remain in effect, including Sunrise Highway from mile marker 17 to 29, and are expected through Wednesday afternoon, as crews secure gas and electrical lines throughout the area, the Cal Fire captain said.

The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter for the displaced at Joan McQueen Middle School at 2001 Tavern Road in Alpine.

The International Equestrian Center at 16911 Gunn Stage Road in Ramona is open for people to bring their own pets and stay. Pets cannot be dropped off.

Any animals evacuated by Animal Services will be taken to Creek Hollow Ranch at 25279 Creek Hollow Road in Ramona.

Cal Fire also reported that as of this morning, 2,100 firefighters were fighting the flames from the air and ground, and five crew members have suffered minor injuries since the fire began. Three of them were heat-related and a fourth was a facial cut, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said. The nature of the fifth injury was unclear.

A total of 50 firefighter crews assigned to the Chariot Fire were working with 108 fire engines, 12 helicopters, four air tankers, 19 bull dozers and 25 water tenders, according to Cal Fire. Aiding Cal Fire in the effort were the U.S. Forest Service, California State Parks, and the county Fire Authority and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

MOUNT LAGUNA, Calif. — A wildfire that has scorched at least 4,700 acres and damaged or destroyed dozens of buildings burned out of control in the Mount Laguna area for the fourth consecutive day Tuesday.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Chariot Fire

The so-called Chariot Fire broke out just before 1 p.m. Saturday east of Sunrise Highway and about nine miles southeast of Julian, according to Cal Fire, which reported that the blaze was 15 percent contained as of 6:45 a.m. Tuesday.

“The fire has reached Sunrise Highway in the Cottonwood Canyon area,” Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said in a statement. “It burned through the Al Bahr Shrine Camp … The fire is now well established on the west side of Sunrise Highway.”

Flames have continued to move to the west since Saturday, driven by erratic winds, according to Mohler.

Cal Fire also reported that as of this morning, 1,677 firefighters were fighting the flames from the air and ground, and five crew members have suffered minor injuries since the fire began. Three of them were heat-related and a fourth was a facial cut, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said. The nature of the fifth injury was unclear.

The official count of damaged or destroyed structures sat at 8 this morning but the number was expected to increase, according to Mohler.

Shriner’s International officials told U-T San Diego that the Al Bahr Mount Laguna Shrine Camp lost all but about a dozen of its 116 cabins, which were located along Sunrise Highway, north of Laguna Meadow Road. The camp’s dining hall and a lodge, which was built in the 1920s, and the nearby Foster Lodge run by the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club were also lost, officials said.

Authorities cleared everyone out of 20 residences potentially in the path of the flames Sunday night and from 100 others Monday morning, when the evacuation zone was widened to include a three-mile stretch of Sunrise Highway. The zone as of this morning covered Sunrise Highway from mile marker 17 to 29, Mohler said.

The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter for the displaced residents and campers at Joan MacQueen Middle School on Tavern Road in Alpine.

A total of 50 firefighter crews assigned to the Chariot Fire were working with 108 fire engines, 12 helicopters, four air tankers, 19 bull dozers and 25 water tenders, according to Cal Fire. Aiding Cal Fire in the effort were the U.S. Forest Service, California State Parks, and the county Fire Authority and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

SAN DIEGO – The small amount of rainfall in San Diego County has fire officials deeply concerned about the potential spread of more wildfires.

Cal Fire Captain Kendal Bortisser has over 30 years of experience fighting fires and told Fox5 the conditions around the county are “ripe” for more fires.

“We’ve had such a small amount of rainfall around the year.  The fuels are so dry it concerns the meteorologists, fire behavior analysts and firefighters in general,” Bortisser said.

On Saturday, the Chariot Fire sparked east of Julian and grew to 4,700-acres by Monday.  Hundreds of firefighters were battling the blaze that threatens structures and forced evacuations.

The Chariot Fire is part of a pattern Cal Fire officials fear could be worse. ChariotFireMtLaguna

“We were seeing conditions in April and May that we don’t normally see until September.  We can’t predict the future, but this year started off with a bang and we have a real deep concern that it’s going get worse.”

The experienced firefighters is worried this could be a dangerous year.

“There are so many years where we hear ‘oh this is going to be a worst fire season on record,’ but I’ve seen a tremendous amount of information [this season] that makes people nervous.”

MOUNT LAGUNA, Calif. — A fire that broke out Saturday east of Sunrise Highway has jumped the roadway and has burned several structures, fire officials said Monday.

Firefighters have expanded the mandatory evacuation area from the Mt. Laguna Lodge south to Interstate 8. Fire officials told Fox 5 News that the fire has spread from the relatively sparse chaparral east of Sunrise Highway into the more heavily forested terrain west of the highway. Firefighters were concerned that the fire will begin crowning, or spreading rapidly from treetop to treetop, making it much harder to stop.mt. laguna

The wildfire has blackened more than 4,700 acres in rugged terrain southeast of Julian, forcing the evacuation of scores of back-country homes along with several campgrounds. Monday morning, officials said it was 20 percent contained, but by early afternoon, they reduced containment to 15 percent.

The fire destroyed or damaged at least eight structures, but it was unclear what type of buildings were engulfed Monday evening, though they were in the area of several campgrounds outfitted with cabins and lodges, said Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler.

The blaze, dubbed the Chariot Fire, erupted for unknown reasons shortly before 1 p.m. Saturday east of Sunrise Highway in the Chariot Mountain area.

The fire was threatening about 120 homes near Mount Laguna. Officials cleared residents out of 20 of those residences Sunday night and from the rest this morning, when the evacuation zone was widened to cover about three miles along Sunrise Highway, including areas to the west of the rural route.

ChariotFire2The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter for the displaced at Joan McQueen Middle School at 2001 Tavern Road in Alpine.

The International Equestrian Center at 16911 Gunn Stage Road in Ramona is open for people to bring their own pets and stay. Pets cannot be dropped off.

Any animals evacuated by Animal Services will be taken to Creek Hollow Ranch at 25279 Creek Hollow Road in Ramona.

Also evacuated was Horse Heaven Campground in Cleveland National Forest, as were the Al Bahr Shrine, El Prado and Laguna and campgrounds, and the Sierra Club’s Foster Lodge.

About 1,170 firefighters were working the lines Monday afternoon, including personnel who had to be airlifted in due to the steep and remote nature of the burn site. Ground crews were being assisted by 18 firefighting aircraft, including a DC-10 tanker that was dropping heavy loads of fire retardant in front of the flames. Four crew members suffered minor injuries while battling the flames, authorities said.

Four crew members have suffered minor injuries — three of them heat- related, the other a facial cut — since the crews starting battling the fire on Saturday, Mohler said.

Aiding Cal Fire in the effort were the U.S. Forest Service, California State Parks, and the county Fire Authority and Sheriff’s Department. The California Highway Patrol closed State Route 79 at Sunrise Highway and blocked off the latter roadway at Old Highway 80.

Anyone in need of emergency assistance should  call 911.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

JULIAN, Calif. — Nearly 1,200 firefighters Monday battled a roughly 2,500-acre wildfire that has prompted the evacuation of 120 homes southeast of Julian as well as several campgrounds, authorities said.

ChariotFireThe so-called Chariot Fire broke out just before 1 p.m. Saturday east of Sunrise Highway and about 9 miles southeast of Julian and was 20 percent contained this morning, according to Cal Fire.

The blaze is threatening 120 residences, Cal Fire officials reported, saying 20 were evacuated Sunday night and 100 more this morning, when the evacuation area was increased to cover about 3 miles along Sunrise Highway.

Four minor injuries were reported by Cal Fire, which said 1,171 firefighters were assigned to battle the blaze as of this morning.

In addition to the state firefighting agency, the U.S. Forest Service, California Highway Patrol, San Diego County Fire Authority, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and California State Parks were helping with firefighting and road closures.

The Horse Heaven Campground in the Cleveland National Forest was evacuated, as were the El Prado, Laguna and Al Bahr Shrine campgrounds and the Sierra Club’s Foster Lodge in the Laguna Mountains, Cal Fire officials said.

Evacuees were directed to an emergency shelter set up by the American Red Cross at Joan MacQueen Middle School at 2001 Tavern Road in Alpine.

State Route 79 was closed at Sunrise Highway, Sunrise Highway was closed at Old Highway 80, and the Kenwood Drive onramp to state Route 94 was closed, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

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