SAN DIEGO — A body believed to be that of an 82-year-old man was found in the burned remains of a home on Monday that was destroyed by a brush fire in eastern San Diego County, according to fire and police officials.
The body was believed to be that of the home’s owner, a one-legged man who told neighbors that he was not going to evacuate. The man’s truck was parked outside.
Neighbors had alerted investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and local sheriff’s deputies that the man may have died. Once the ashes cooled, officials sifted through the smoldering debris and found a body.
The exact account of the damage done by the wind-driven fire may not be known for days as investigators prowl through canyons and isolated areas. At least 20 homes were reported destroyed, along with a dozen outbuildings. An additional 10 homes were damaged, according to fire officials.
The 2,451-acre fire, of unknown origin, broke out Sunday afternoon at Shockey Truck Trail and California 94 on the Campo Indian Reservation and within hours forced evacuations of 600 people from the rural communities of Boulevard and Jacumba.
Residents rushed to get livestock to safety ahead of the flames. An evacuation center was established by the Red Cross at Mountain Empire High School and the San Diego Humane Society provided shelter at the school for horses, cats and dogs.
More than 950 firefighters from Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, the Campo Indian Reservation, and several mutual aid agencies struggled to contain the flames, which skipped along ridges and hurled embers in all directions. By late afternoon, the fire was burning east, threatening dozens of homes. It was considered 40% contained.
Also fighting the Shockey fire were six air tankers and three water-dropping helicopters.
Among the houses destroyed was the two-story home where George and Mary Stewart had lived for more than 30 years. The elderly couple — George is 88, Mary is 80 — took refuge Sunday afternoon at the Golden Acorn Casino as the fire picked up speed and the tall trees around their home burst into flames.
The home was a total loss, including Mary Stewart’s antique collection and George Stewart’s memorabilia from World War II, when he served in the Marine Corps.
“All the letters he wrote to his mom during World War II burned up,” said the Stewarts’ son Troy. His friend, Dave Hendry, who said he is “like a son” to the Stewarts, said the destruction was total.
“Inside the house was like a museum,” Hendry said.