Aided by a mild but much-appreciated break in the hot, dry weather, more than 1,000 firefighters appeared to gain the advantage Wednesday in their four-day war with San Diego County brush fires.
For the first time since Sunday, when the Normal Heights blaze razed scores of houses and other structures, firefighters went from dawn to dusk without losing a dwelling.
Authorities reported that the only injuries suffered by firefighters and residents were minor, as has been the case throughout the four days of fire. During that period, more than 29,000 acres of county land have been charred, prompting the evacuation of hundreds of people and animals, including one yak.
The largest blaze Wednesday, one that authorities said apparently was ignited Monday by exploding ammunition during a Marine Corps exercise at Camp Pendleton, continued to rage in the rugged terrain north of the base and near the town of De Luz. Battled by more than 640 firefighters, the blaze has consumed more than 15,000 acres of brush, and containment was expected by 4 p.m. Friday, forestry officials said.
Ed Phillips, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry, said a combination of slightly lower temperatures, slightly higher humidity and slightly slower winds made Wednesday's flames more manageable.
The National Weather Service reported that inland valley temperatures reached 100 degrees, but that was still 5 to 10 degrees lower than the previous three days. Phillips said the fire conditions are not greatly affected by such a small drop. "It makes a bigger difference for the
personnel," he said. "It's not so hard for them."
Higher humidity and lighter breezes did help slow the flames. Humidity had climbed from about 19% to 29% in the North County fire region.
Phillips said that breezes were down to 5 to 12 m.p.h., compared to the 25-m.p.h. gusts of Monday. "The winds are less erratic," he said.
Before Wednesday, the De Luz fire had destroyed two homes, a nursery with six greenhouses, and several acres of avocado groves.
Firefighters working the De Luz blaze formed a line of defense to safeguard a weapons depot at Pendleton that contains 20,000 gallons of napalm. The depot was never threatened by the blaze, said Capt. Jerry Broeckert, a base spokesman.
Camp Pendleton's commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Robert Haebel, has ordered an investigation into the fire's cause, according to a statement released Wednesday. The fire started in a base firing range.
The statement also said people who believe they suffered a damage or loss because of the fire may contact the base's Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at 725-5571.
Two other brush fires flared Wednesday. Firefighters worked four hours to extinguish a blaze two miles west of Lakeside that burned 30 acres and threatened some homes before it was put out.
Another fire broke out in a canyon in the Mira Mesa, but it was quickly contained before any structures were threatened.
Otherwise, firefighters worked on what authorities described as "mop-up" operations from the fires of the previous days.
Apart from the continuing De Luz blaze, authorities provided this compilation of the destruction from four days of San Diego County fires:
- In the 300-acre Normal Heights fire on Sunday, 64 homes were destroyed, 20 were severely damaged but considered salvageable, 18 outbuildings were destroyed and 18 vehicles burned. Damage to that property has been estimated at $8.5 million. There has been no dollar estimate of the loss of furniture, clothing and other items in the homes.
- The Deer Springs blaze burned 500 acres north of Escondido. Six homes were destroyed along with several outbuildings and vehicles.
- The Gopher Canyon fire near Vista, considered 90% contained Wednesday, charred 1,400 acres and destroyed one home. The humane society evacuated 33 horses, 4 goats and one yak.
- The Mt. Miguel fire, 100% contained on Tuesday evening, destroyed three dwellings and six cars and killed a small number of livestock. It consumed 12,000 acres.