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Fire agencies investigate Sandia Creek fire

Gate continues to block through traffic

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

The investigation into the cause of the Sept. 4 Sandia Creek fire is being conducted by a team of three agencies – the North County Fire Protection District, Cal Fire, and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department - according to John Choi, NCFPD public information officer.

It may be weeks or even months before the investigation is completed. He noted that the fire was started right near the gate blocking eastbound traffic on Sandia Creek Road where the first responding fire engine responded.

"The gate wasn't an issue," he said. "It worked fine for us."

However, that first engine wound up blocking other units from reaching the fire. The solution of manipulating the other gate blocking traffic going the other direction was effective, he said. "We just left the exit open while fighting the fire," he explained.

The fire was contained to 30 acres with support from four aircraft dropping retardant at the head of the fire and crews making progress on the flanks of the fire.

The manipulated gate was fixed right away, Choi said, and is working. Emergency crews have two methods of quickly opening the gates.

Ron Wyllie, who works in Fallbrook and has operated Sandia Creek Ranch for 40 years, speculated an angry driver may be responsible for the fire.

"A lot of motorists are angry about the gate," he said.

The gate was established July 4 in the 2.2-mile stretch of the private road near the border with Riverside County.

A San Diego County study revealed that 89% of the vehicles traveling Sandia Creek Road were out-of-area drivers.

"The gate is a sad thing, but it's needed," Wyllie said. "So many drive like maniacs."

He said speeding cars has been a problem for about 10 years, ever since mobile devices began letting drivers know of a different way to avoid the I-15 traffic to and from Temecula. The route was longer, but it moved – and saved time.

"With the gate installed, it's the first time in years that I don't have a line of drivers all in a hurry on my tail," he said. "Sometimes there would be 20 speeding cars, each riding bumper to bumper."

The majority were non-residents, he noted, adding that he's seen birds, dogs and horses be hit by vehicles – but no fatalities.

"One driver drove through my fence and a tree," he added. "It's just a matter of time before there would be a fatal accident."

Wyllie said the landowners don't have an association but have property along the road.

"There are about 35 neighbors and I think all but two voted for the gate," he said.

The property owners all have clickers now, as well as a gate code that is frequently updated.

The gate is located right near the county line with Riverside.

"It's not in the best location but it's what the county chose," Wyllie said.

The ranch owners said there are numerous signs – beginning at Pico in Fallbrook – warning that the road is not a through route.

On the Riverside end of the road, the county put up multiple stop signs at intersections to slow traffic, but Wyllie said that wasn't effective.

"Basically, the road became like a freeway onramp," he complained.

The 2.2-mile stretch of Sandia Creek Road that is on private property continues to be maintained by Wyllie and his neighbors.

"For years I used to fix the potholes myself," he said. "We tried for 10-15 years to get the county to take over the road, but they wouldn't do it. The cost of the gate, paid for by homeowners, is hefty – but worth it. The Sandia Creek area is much quieter and wildlife is returning. And the road is safe."


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