CUYAMACA RANCHO STATE PARK — An unattended campfire started the forest fire that scorched 1,107 acres of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park before it was finally doused Monday, the California Department of Forestry said.
The fire, which began Wednesday in campground No. 2 near Japacha Peak and Green Valley Falls Campground, burned east toward California 79. The area, designated as primitive campground because it is out in the wild where no fire rings are available, is off limits to campfires. CDF spokeswoman Audrey Hagen said someone either walked away from a burning fire or left smoldering embers that he thought were out.
The blaze, encouraged by unseasonably high temperatures and 10- to 20-m.p.h. winds last week, roared out of control for days before a successful burnout operation--destroying vegetation in the fire's path with a controlled burn--slowed the blaze enough Friday for firefighters to have it 90% contained that evening. Firefighters managed to further contain it Sunday.
In addition to the weather, firefighters were hampered by steep terrain and the density of trees and brush in the area, Hagen said. Foliage in the area had not burned for 14 years.
"Firefighters had to climb the mountain to get to hot spots," Hagen said, "only to find burned tree limbs falling and starting a new fire."
Twenty-one firefighters suffered minor injuries. Some of the more serious were a broken ankle, an injured knee, and two allergic reactions to multiple stings after firefighters disturbed a hornets nest, Hagen said. Most of the injuries were from smoke inhalation or heat exhaustion.
Cost of fighting the five-day blaze has been estimated at $810,000, Hagen said. Total loss was set at $200,000.
At the height of the fire, 1,000 firefighters from the CDF, the U.S. Forest Service and San Diego city and rural fire departments battled the blaze. Support personnel also came from the California Conservation Corps, the Bureau of Land Management and the California Department of Parks and Recreation. They were aided by six air tankers and five helicopters dropping water and fire retardant on the blaze.
On Monday, only 424 of the 1,000 personnel remained. More were expected to be sent home as things wind down, Hagen said.
Green Valley Falls Campground, closed to make room for a fire command center, will remain closed indefinitely, Hagen said. The fire also closed the stretch of California 79 from Descanso to Cuyamaca Lake, but the road was reopened Sunday.