Otay Mesa brush fire burns 350 acres and forces evacuations

Caliente fire burns in Otay Mesa, Calif.
A brush fire that scorched 350 acres of vegetation also set ablaze huge stacks of pallets at an industrial yard Thursday in Otay Mesa, Calif., near the U.S.-Mexico border.
(Sam Hodgson / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders Thursday afternoon in a mostly industrial portion of Otay Mesa, Calif., south of Highway 905 as a brush fire continued to grow near the U.S.-Mexico border, burning roughly 350 acres of vegetation and an industrial yard full of wooden pallets.

The blaze was first reported around 11:45 a.m. off Airway Road near Caliente Avenue.

The Caliente fire was 10% contained as of about 5 p.m., San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokeswoman Mónica Muñoz said, and had the potential to grow to more than 400 acres.

The Caliente fire has forced mandatory evacuations south of Highway 905 in Otay Mesa, Calif.


No structures or vehicles had burned and no injuries were reported as of 5 p.m., Muñoz said. But huge stacks of pallets at an industrial yard off Cactus Court caught fire in the afternoon, sending a thick plume of black smoke into the sky.

Mandatory evacuations were issued around 3:15 p.m. for businesses and residents south of St. Andrews Avenue between Cactus and La Media roads, according to the Fire Department.

The evacuation zone expanded east, to Otay Center Drive, around 4:40 p.m.

Both directions of the Cross Border Xpress, a bridge that connects Tijuana International Airport with a terminal building in Otay Mesa, were shut down, according to San Diego police.


Included in the evacuation zone was Southwestern College’s Higher Education Center at Otay Mesa, which said all remaining classes Thursday were canceled at the campus off Airway Road.

San Diego police were helping to notify residents south of Highway 905 and west of Cactus Road of voluntary evacuations in the area.

San Diego police closed southbound traffic on La Media Road. Police and California Highway Patrol officers also shut down the exit from the eastbound 905 to Britannia Boulevard.

Firefighters on the ground were working to get lines around the flames as helicopters dropped water on the fire, which was burning in an eastward direction in open space when it was first reported a little before noon.

Four helicopters were working to douse the flames — two from San Diego fire, one from the U.S. Forest Service and one from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department — along with two fixed-wing aircraft, Muñoz said. Water tenders from several fire departments were providing water for hoses because there are no hydrants in the area, she said.

San Diego firefighters on the ground also were assisted by state and federal firefighters. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and San Diego police also were on scene, Muñoz said.


When the fire broke out, it was visible from San Ysidro High School but posed no danger to the school, said Sweetwater Union High School District spokesman Manny Rubio.

“It is moving the other way, so we were told we are fine, everything will be fine,” he said.

Caliente fire in Otay Mesa, Calif.
Two men watch the Caliente fire from Cactus Road.
(John Gastaldo)

Kucher and Riggins write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


6:09 p.m. Aug. 1, 2019: This story was updated with additional details, including the acreage of the blaze.

7:31 p.m. Aug. 1, 2019: This story was updated to show all evacuations were lifted.

7:16 p.m. Aug. 1, 2019: This story was updated with new information, including the estimated acreage of the fire.