The massive El Dorado Fire, that started Sept. 5, in Yucaipa, continues to burn in the mountain communities. At press time, the fire burned 18,092 acres and was at 60% containment.
“It is an odd feeling to be told you can’t go home,” said Yucaipa resident Jesse Dinkel, who was evacuated from his home last week. “After all, the one place we want to go most of all is home. But unlike Dorothy, we can’t just click our heels together and go home. We have to wait until the wonderful firefighters make it safe for us.”
All evacuation orders for Yucaipa, Oak Glen, and Mentone were lifted on Sunday, Sept. 13.
“While we trust God to take care of us, we did have some fear and panic slip into our hearts,” said Sandi Cady Yucaipa resident. “We hoped we weren’t taking too long to evacuate and then get caught in the fire. It was blowing right at our home to within quarter mile. We frantically packed what we could knowing that would be all we had left to begin a new life if the home burned, very sobering thought! We’re so very grateful to our firefighters for saving our home and so many others. We want to pray God’s blessings upon every firefighter who fought this deadly fire.”
At least one home in Yucaipa on the North Bench is confirmed to have burned during the fire. Mike and Judy Burton on Jefferson Street lost their home.
“We want to continue to remind people that fire evacuation is a high priority especially in an active fire area. If people need a tip on what to do please go to readyforwildfie.org. If you live in an area that is being watched for evacuation, be prepared and monitor the social media sites and San Bernardino County Sheriff Twitter and Facebook sites. Be sure to sign up for the county alert system (TENS) for early warning notifications,” said Cathey Mattingly, public information officer for CAL FIRE San Bernardino Unit.
While the El Dorado Fire did affect all the businesses in Oak Glen, either because of road closures or fire reaching the perimeter of many operations, most were planning to reopen this week, said Jonathan Bastedo, president of the Oak Glen Apple Growers Association.
“Luckily,” Bastedo said, “the orchards were almost completely spared from the fire. I think that long term Oak Glen is only looking at a couple dozen apple trees that were damaged by fire and will need to be replanted.”
The Oak Glen Road drive is still scenic and has all the oaks and pines that visitors are used to, Bastedo said. It’s the vistas that were ravaged by the fire.
Labor Day weekend, when the fire ignited, is the traditional opening of apple season in Oak Glen.
“We are all glad to still be here and to be able to continue as planned with apple season,” Bastedo said. “Our harvest is still looking great and our air is clearer than the valleys.”
For a few days, things did look pretty grim while the fires were running through Oak Glen, Bastedo admitted.
“But, we have come out the far side relatively unscathed,” he said.
Oak Glen apple season runs through Thanksgiving weekend.
Forest Falls and Mountain Home Village
Residents of Forest Falls and Mountain Home Village were evacuated on Saturday, Sept. 5, and most left and have not been able to return home, due to the mandatory evacuation orders.
“I’ve been evacuated a few times but this time it felt different,” said longtime Forest Falls resident Sarah Garrison, who left with her young family on Saturday. “I could actually see the threat of the flames right above my house. Once we got the car all packed and left, I had a pit in my stomach and prayed everything would be OK. I’m very grateful for the firefighters and all the work they’ve done so far.”
Another Forest Falls resident, Andrea Stetler, concurred. Stetler has lived in the mountain community since 2017.
“I tried to stay hopeful as I looked up to my mountain from San Bernardino and saw the massive plume rising over my boyfriend's apartment in the distance, but closer than I’ve ever seen, tears came to my eyes and my chest felt tight,” she said. “I could only pray for the ones who were still in Forest Falls. As days drag on, I see-saw between anxiety and exhaustion, constantly searching for new information. But what gives me hope is that the most beautiful trees need fire to break open their seeds.”
Four days after the mandatory evacuation order was announced, the fire exploded in Forest Falls. Law enforcement was out last Wednesday to warn all the remaining residents to evacuate.
Sheriff’s Service Specialist Jenny Smith said it was a harrowing event.
“Deputy (Alicia) Rosa was in the area of Valley of the Falls and Canyon last Wednesday and saw that flames from the El Dorado Fire were close to and approaching homes on Canyon Drive and asked for immediate assistance in evacuating any additional residents. I was nearby and quickly responded. We drove around Canyon Drive, knocking on doors and using the PA from the vehicle to alert everyone to leave.
“There was a lot of thick smoke in the air and ash was getting into my eyes. When other deputies arrived, they systematically went street by street, making announcements and also transported a female, who didn’t have a vehicle or way to get out.”
“I am always amazed at the bravery and true hearts of my partners, but seeing them, continually put the lives of others before their own is more than phenomenal. Deputy Rosa is a true hero. She is selfless.”
Due to the active fires and burned power poles along Hwy 38 and in Forest Falls, residents can expect to remain evacuated until power is restored in the canyon. San Bernardino County Fire Chief Dan Munsy said Southern California Edison is evaluating the damage on a regular basis.
The fire activity slowly burned down slope towards the Angeles Oaks community on Monday and Tuesday.
Firefighters are currently around Angeles Oaks, which also remains evacuated due to the active fire.