Southern fire near San Diego County’s Shelter Valley grows to 5,200 acres

Smokes is seen rising over hills and a valley
SDG&E cameras show smoke from the Southern fire near Shelter Valley on Saturday.

A brush fire that began Saturday evening on the western edge of the Anza-Borrego desert more than doubled in size overnight and had burned 5,200 acres by Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday, more than 200 firefighters were assigned to the Southern fire, which was 25% contained as of 2:35 p.m., said Cal Fire spokesman Frank LoCoco. He said Cal Fire deployed 20 engines, eight water carriers and four bulldozers. There were also 10 hand crews working on building containment lines.

For the record:

1:52 p.m. May 4, 2021This article was changed to reflect the correct name of Butterfield Manufactured Home and RV Community and to reflect that it is no longer a campground.

“Strong winds of 40-60 mph were observed overnight,” Cal Fire said in a statement Sunday morning. “Firefighters continue to work, building containment line.”

On Saturday, the fire burned along county Route S-2, also known as the Great Southern Overland Stage Route. As of about 6 p.m. Saturday, the fire had burned 1,200 acres. The fire has since spread east, LoCoco said.


Firefighting aircraft were unable to take off early Sunday because the marine layer was too low, LoCoco said. Cal Fire was waiting for the weather to clear before deciding which aircraft to use.

LoCoco said winds of about 15 to 25 mph were expected Sunday, an improvement from Saturday night’s gusts.

About 500 people who were staying at the Butterfield Ranch Resort near Shelter Valley and outlying homes were evacuated. An evacuation site, run by American Red Cross, was set up at Agua Caliente Campground, 39545 Great Southern Overland Stage Route.

At least three structures were destroyed. It was unclear whether they were homes or outbuildings, LoCoco said.

The San Diego Humane Society said its Emergency Response Team rescued horses, goats, rabbits, chickens and a donkey Saturday night. Anyone who needs help evacuating animals can call the Department of Animal Services at (619) 236-2341.


Butterfield is a mobile home community, RV park and campsite on county Route S-2. Shelter Valley is a small community to the north, within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.


5:51 p.m. May 2, 2021: This story was updated with additional details.

9:12 p.m. May 2, 2021: This story was updated with information for a Coast Guard statement.