A retirement-age man was found dead today in the charred ruins of one of at least 20 homes gutted by a wildfire that has blackened some 20,000 acres in the southeastern reaches of San Diego County, authorities reported.
Deputies and firefighters made the grim discovery in the 1100 block of Tierra del Sol Road about 2:30 p.m., Cal Fire reported. The body was presumed to be that of a disabled 82-year-old resident who had been unaccounted for after the so-called Shockey Fire swept through the neighborhood, sheriff’s officials said.
Neighbors told sheriff’s officials the man, whose name was withheld pending family notification, had decided to defy the evacuation order he’d gotten Sunday afternoon, several hours after the blaze started spreading over brushy terrain in the Campo area.
No other injuries have been reported, said Robbie Richard, spokesman for the contingent of firefighting personnel assigned to the blaze.
In addition to destroying or damaging 30 or more homes, the blaze leveled 15 outbuildings and scorched overhead power lines, causing a blackout that affected about 135 addresses in Live Oak Springs, Boulevard and Jacumba, starting about 2:45 p.m. Sunday.
By late this afternoon, San Diego Gas & Electric had restored service to all but four of those customers, and the remainder were expected to be back on line tonight.
About 80 homes remained threatened this morning by the eastward-moving flames, according to Cal Fire. By early evening, however, crews had the burn area roughly 40 percent contained, and little or no active fire was still burning, Richard said.
Warm, windy weather added to the challenges of battling the blaze, which erupted for unknown reasons off Shockey Truck Trail and State Route 94 about noon Sunday. Temperatures were were slightly cooler today, but gusty conditions persisted.
Several hours after the flames began spreading, authorities started directing residents of about 80 homes in Boulevard, Jewel Valley and Tierra del Sol to quickly pack up some essential belongings and clear out. Word went out largely via the county’s “reverse 911” emergency telephone system.
Though the evacuations were deemed “mandatory,” state law prohibits authorities from forcing residents from their homes, even in an emergency. It was unclear exactly how many residents complied. Some told news crews they had chosen to stay home and take their chances that the advancing flames would bypass them.
The American Red Cross set up a shelter for evacuees at Mountain Empire High School in Pine Valley. Classes at all Mountain Empire School District campuses were canceled today, said Paul Mallon, director of operations for the district.
The fire also forced the closure of Jewel Valley Road at Highway 80, and Shasta Way and Tierra del Sol Road at SR-94.
A total of 57 engines, six air tankers, six helicopters, five bulldozers and nine water trucks were assigned to the lines, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said. About two dozen deputies were assisting the fire crews, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Jan Caldwell.
This morning, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized funding to help fight the Shockey Fire. The decision makes FEMA funding available to reimburse 75 percent of eligible firefighting costs, according to the federal agency.