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Viejas fire fanned out and touched the lives of those who live and work here

January 06, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

ALPINE — The fire that has burned more than 10,000 acres here has touched the lives of several people who reside or work in the Imperial Valley.

There are Valley residents who have weekend and summer homes in Alpine and others who reside in Alpine and commute to the Valley.

In interviews at their Alpine homes, they said their residences escaped a fire that destroyed six homes and led to hundreds being evacuated.

With the fire nearly contained, those interviewed said they can breathe sighs of relief.

Bill Carver is an accountant in El Centro who makes the drive each day from his Alpine home, leaving at 5 a.m.


On Wednesday, hours after the fire erupted, it was no different for Carver.

He headed toward Interstate 8, but was stopped from taking his normal route to the freeway by law enforcement officers who told him of the fire.

Thinking it was just a small fire and there was no reason for concern, he found a different route to I-8 and made his way to El Centro.

By mid-morning Wednesday, Carver's wife was asked to evacuate their home along with hundreds of other Alpine residents.

Carver said he headed home at that time only to find the interstate closed. He and others trying to make their way to loved ones had to get off the highway.

"It was kind of a community event where you parked," Carver said, adding people were using cellular phones to try to contact their families.

By 4 p.m., he said, the interstate was open and residents were allowed back to their homes.

"I experienced what it was like to try to get to your home but not be able to," Carver said, adding the fire came within two miles of his home.

"That evening I could see big smoke, but the fire was moving in a southwesterly direction," he said.

As a side note, Carver said the second route he had taken to reach I-8 on his way to El Centro was along Japatul Road. He said by mid-morning, the fire had scorched the area along that road.

George Hendrix, who lives in El Centro but has a home in Alpine, said based on news reports he thought his home was in the fire's path.

"We didn't know if we had a house or not," he said.

At 10 a.m. Thursday Hendrix drove to Alpine and found his home untouched. He said it appeared flames had come within a half mile of his home.

"Basically the fire went around the entire perimeter of the city," he said, adding, "I'm not saying it wasn't a scare, but it didn't touch us."

He added, "Those fires are terrible. They lay down flat and then go like crazy."

George and Mercedes Wheeler of Brawley were convinced their travel trailer on eight acres they own near Viejas was destroyed.

They had received a call Wednesday that four trailers in the area had been destroyed. They thought for certain theirs was one of the trailers.

On Saturday the Wheelers arrived at their Alpine property for the first time since the fire.

While the frontage road leading to their property was scorched, their property was not. They said it appeared the fire stopped about a half mile from their property.

"We are very lucky," George Wheeler said. "It went around us and didn't touch a thing."

They said the fire was just east of Viejas and their trailer is just west of there.

Mercedes Wheeler said Saturday she saw fire crews continuing to work as they drove toward their property.

A Central Union High School teacher was injured trying to protect his Alpine home from the fire when he reportedly was blown off his roof by high winds.

Patrick Grattan could not be reached for comment, but Central Principal Emma Jones said he was in good condition Thursday.

His home also reportedly survived the blaze.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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