Brush fire burns more than 800 acres in northern San Diego County

SAN DIEGO -- Driven by hot, dry winds, a brush fire in northern San Diego County burned more than 800 acres, but an aggressive response by firefighters was credited with preventing the flames from damaging any homes.

"We think we have a pretty good handle on it," San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar said at a 6:30 p.m. Tuesday news conference.


With winds decreasing near sunset, firefighters were able to get into difficult terrain in the brushy canyons to extinguish hot spots.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer said that a joint effort by the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and several local departments mobilized "every available resource to attack this fire all day."

More than 20,000 evacuation calls were made by various fire and emergency agencies to homes, businesses and cellphone numbers, the San Diego County Emergency Site said late Tuesday afternoon.

But those figures were later revised and at day's end it remained unclear how many homes were actually evacuated and how many residents may have opted not to leave despite receiving a call.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said 300 mandatory evacuation calls were made within the city limits. San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said his department made 5,000 calls.

The calls were made in the Black Mountain Road, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Torrey Highlands, Santaluz, Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe areas. The Fairbanks Ranch Country Club was ordered evacuated.

An evacuation shelter was established at Rancho Bernardo High by the American Red Cross.

Officials warned residents to stay vigilant and not be lulled into a false sense that the danger has passed.

"Lives depend on all of our cooperation,'' said Councilman Mark Kersey, who was ordered to evacuate from his home. "Wildfires can move quickly, so if you live .. .near the fire but are not under an evacuation, stay alert to changing conditions."

The fire was reported shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday near Rancho Bernardo. Three elementary schools were evacuated.

The fire approached numerous homes but airdrops and firefighters on the ground were able to stop its spread. By 6:30 p.m., the fire was considered 5% contained. No injuries were reported.

Firefighters from Cal Fire, the San Diego Fire & Rescue Department, the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department and several other agencies were battling the blaze.

"We've come a long way since the wildfires of 2003," Mainar said.

After the Cedar fire in 2003 that destroyed more than 2,200 homes in San Diego County, reports pointed to communication and equipment problems.

Two fire helicopters from San Diego and a fixed-wing aircraft from Cal Fire were dropping water by early afternoon, in some cases, directly behind pricey homes.

Hundreds of animals, small and large, were evacuated to SeaWorld in San Diego, the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and the Helen Woodward Animal Shelter outside Rancho Santa Fe.

Faulconer said that he has declared a local emergency, which will allow for federal reimbursement for costs.

With an even hotter weather forecast for Wednesday, fire officials warned that the fire danger throughout the county remains significant.

"It's been a challenging day to say the least," Mainar said.