Tribal grounds not spared
Tribal grounds not spared
Church and homes burn, Rincon casino threatened
By Onell R. Soto
October 24, 2007
Flames burned through Indian reservations in San Diego County's backcountry
yesterday, scorching historic buildings and homes and threatening a casino.
The Poomacha fire began in a house on the La Jolla Indian reservation early
yesterday and quickly spread west, blackening more than 7,000 acres there
and at the nearby Rincon and San Pasqual reservations.
We've lost a lot of our older buildings we had, that have been here for
years and years, said Rincon tribal councilman Bo Mazzetti. Our church,
our Catholic church, we lost that.
Mazzetti said the destruction was a spiritual blow to the tribe.
That's something we've all attended, that church. It's devastating to see
that, Mazzetti said.
Mazzetti also said the fire ripped through the wooded mountains where he
It looks like a sand dune, with charcoal mixed in it, he said. There's
About 59 homes and trailers burned at the Rincon reservation and 20 at La
Jolla, said Jim Fletcher, superintendent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs
in Southern California.
To the southeast, the Witch Creek fire swept through a 900-acre parcel
where the Mesa Grande tribe keeps a herd of 45 bison, Fletcher said.
Fletcher said he requested a team of federal officials who specialize in
shoring up burned land to examine damaged tribal lands. He planned to call
a meeting of Southern California tribes next week.
On the La Jolla reservation, at the east end of Pauma Valley, resident John
Molina said firefighters and highway patrol officers came through about 3
a.m. yesterday telling people to evacuate.
The CHP was screaming, 'You've got to go now,' Molina said. It was a
big yellow cloud coming at me.
His daughter took his Ford pickup to warn other residents, but the truck
got stuck and the family left it behind.
Members of the Rincon and La Jolla tribes sought refuge at the Harrah's
Rincon casino on the reservation, some staying in a hall used for concerts
as the fire raged outside.
They had some embers on the roof that would burn a little, but
firefighters put them out, said Dick Watenpaugh, Rincon tribal
The casino had shut down gambling before dawn, and workers began tending to
about 350 people stranded there, spokeswoman Sheryl Sebastian said.
The Witch Creek fire burned part of the Barona reservation yesterday, as
tribal members and their families holed up in the casino-hotel.
Harrah's Rincon and Barona will remain closed today, as will other casinos
inside evacuation zones, including Pauma, Valley View and Santa Ysabel.
Other casinos in the county were open yesterday, with few gamblers.
Some casinos are opening their doors to firefighters, offering them a place
to rest and refuel their rigs.
We've maintained a skeleton crew to provide food and water to emergency
responders, said Joe Navarro, who heads the San Pasqual tribe's business
operations, which include the Valley View casino near Valley Center.
The San Pasqual reservation is threatened by the Poomacha fire to the north
and Witch Creek fire to the south.
At Viejas, which has been spared by flames, firefighters rested in the
tribe's recreation hall and ate at the casino buffet.