Jamul resident Farrell Loftis breached three roadblocks to get back to his home off Proctor Valley Road on Monday. His mantra was simple and direct: “Get out of my way—I'm going to save my house.”
Residents of Jamul abandoned their fight against a proposed 12-story hotel and casino—and their homes—as the Harris fire advanced toward their town of 9,200 on Monday.
The unincorporated county municipality 25 miles south-southeast of San Diego was evacuated as flames and embers blew west along state Route 94 at up to 40 miles per hour. As of press time, one man had been killed and four firefighters were injured—all in a single incident—in the Harris blaze.
Despite repeated warnings from fire personnel and law enforcement, more recalcitrant residents like Loftis chose to stay.
“I'll stay all night,” Loftis said, noting that he had weathered fires there in 1973 and 1985.
Standing in the middle of Proctor Valley Road at sunset, Loftis watched a wall of flame less than a quarter-mile away lick across a dry valley toward the road and his home on the other side of it. In hopes of creating a barrier, his adult son, Farren, hosed water on the dry brush at the road's edge.
As of Tuesday morning, the Harris fire had burned 70,000 acres as it advanced toward Chula Vista, Otay Lakes and Spring Valley and was only 5 percent contained.
Though Jamul was eerily deserted early Monday evening, isolated pairs raked at the brush by the roadside. Others anxiously surveyed the fire while sipping a beer or a Red Bull.
Further east on Proctor Valley Road, Brad Nayfack and his teenage sons watched from the backyard of their home as a helicopter dropped water on the fire. In an hour's time, the chopper had made six or seven passes over the rolling valley, Nayfack said.
In the driveway, an antique car and motorcycles were hitched to a trailer, ready for evacuation.
“We've already topped off the pool with water so they can pump the water if they have to save the house, and then we cleared out all the brush and everything,” Nayfack said. “We're not planning on going unless we absolutely have to…. If anything goes in the house, it goes. We took what we wanted.”
Flames had burned past Nayfack's property earlier in the day.
“There's another one coming that we're worried about that's more in line with here,” Nayfack said. “My major concern is my kids being idiots, running out there [in the field] to watch [the helicopters] like they did a little bit ago.”
Many residents from Jamul, Dulzura and Potrero were evacuated to Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley, about five miles from the flames. Others were evacuated to an Edwards movie-theater complex at the corner of Jamacha and Campo roads in El Cajon.
At the high school, Ray Hunley sat on a folding chair in the gymnasium watching a local news broadcast and hoping for good news. He'd been evacuated from his Dulzura home at about 5 a.m. Monday.
“Right before [the sheriff] came, I looked over the hill and I saw the smoke and went in to get my digital camera,” Hunley said. “By the time I got back out, the fire had come over the mountain [toward me].”
Robert Halpain sat on a cot in the gym, thumbing the brim of his brown suede hat. His wife Patricia and their daughter sat on the floor before him and worked on a puzzle.
Jamul residents were evacuated at about 9 a.m. Monday, having no idea whether they still had homes to go back to.
“They banged on our door and yelled, ‘Fire—in your back yard!'” Patricia said. “It was right above our backyard in the mountains, not even a mile away.”
Shelter manager Don Compton assigned residents cots in the gym. “Some left and never signed out,” Compton said. “This makes it difficult.”
Teen volunteer Tim Fairbarn approached, adding, “And we've got a plumbing problem in the men's bathroom.”
“Glad to hear that,” Compton answered wearily. “That means I've got another thing to take care of.”Evacuees were coping with the abrupt disruption to their lives in various ways, Compton said. “Some are in denial of what's happened,” he said. “Some think that nothing is wrong with their place and others think theirs is destroyed, and then they find out in the end that they were both wrong.”
None of the evacuees seemed to know just where they would go next if the fire—headed in the general direction of the school—remained on course.
“There's so much misinformation,” Compton said. “So many people would like to know a lot of things, but we don't have that information.”