Climbers rescued by helicopter from fire near Lakeside, California

Lakeside fire
Fire burns near El Capitan Reservoir east of Lakeside, California. Photo: Valerie Hernandez

Two rock climbers, trapped by the El Monte fire near El Capitan Reservoir east of Lakeside, California, were rescued by a helicopter that could not land at their location, but hovered close enough that the climbers could step into the helicopter. Here is an excerpt from a story at

A sheriff’s helicopter was sent to rescue ten people, including two hikers who were stuck on a rock wall on El Captain Mountain. Andre Doria and his hiking partner Meg went for a day of multi pitch climbing on El Cajon Mountain. They were having lunch when they noticed the smoke.

“We called 911 and they said ‘yeah we know about this fire’,” Doria said.

Within 20 minutes the fire had spread to several acres.

“It came up the mountain face and we were going to start rapelling down and try to get to a safe area for the airlift to come. By the time we got to the repel anchors, the fire was just so smoky where we were that we decided it was best to just keep going up,” Doria said.

Fortunately the wind came in and blew a lot of the smoke away and the helicopters were able to find them.

Just in time.

“It was dicey, because when the airlift came, the fire came over the ridge to us and it was probably about 50 feet from us,” Doria said. “They came down with their chopper and they couldn’t land right on the mountain, but they came close enough we were able to step into the chopper.”

He says nothing like this has ever happened to him before.

“I’ve never been that close to a fire that large and been in such a position where I’m just completely at its mercy and fortunately this people who airlifted us out found us soon enough. I mean it was down to the last second there,” Doria said. “It was intense. Amazing. We are very blessed to have those people.”

Doria and Meg got out safety, but $2,000 worth of their hiking gear did not.

“I was told that my bags were on fire,” Meg said. “It was a lot closer than I would ever want to cut something, ever again.”

The hikers had some advice for fellow hikers.

“Everybody should, if they go out, always carry a cell phone. Had we not had a cell phone, they wouldn’t have known we were up there and fortunately we had reception so we were able to call 911,” Doria said.

Two firefighters received minor injuries. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

As of 8 p.m. Saturday night, the spread of the fire had been stopped. The fire had burned 1,047 acres (down from an earlier estimate of 2,500-3,000 acres), and was 10% contained. It was burning in 7-year old fuels that last burned in the 2003 Cedar fire.

Managing the fire was Carlton Joseph’s Type 2 incident management team, but as of 0600 Sunday, August 22, 2010, the Type 1 Southern California Interagency Incident Management Team #1 will be assuming command of the incident. Three days ago Carlton was named Deputy Incident Commander Trainee on the Type 1 CA-IMT #5. Congratulations to Carlton, who is the Fire Chief for the Cleveland National Forest.

In this video, one of the rescued climbers tells his story.

Here is an early map of the El Monte fire near Lakeside that was produced Saturday night, showing the estimated fire perimeter.

map of El Monte fire near Lakeside California
The estimated perimeter of the fire, as of Saturday night. Map by CalFire, with notes added by Wildfire Today.

More information about the fire is in the video below.

Fire repellent?

The LA Times, which should know better, said this about the El Monte fire:

Firefighters were battling the blaze with fire repellent and water dropped from four air tankers, six helicopters and three helitankers, she said.

I wonder if I could get a patent on fire repellent?……. hmmmm. How do you make it?

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.