200 vehicles burn in Otay Mesa junkyard fire

Firefighters work to extinguish an inferno at a wrecking yard while black smoke fills the sky.
Firefighters work to extinguish an inferno at a wrecking yard in Otay Mesa on Saturday.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

An Otay Mesa wrecking yard packed with vehicles burned in an inferno Saturday, sending a spectacle of thick, black plumes of smoke over the border region that was visible for miles.

About 200 vehicles were destroyed in the blaze, which was reported at noon at the lot on Cactus Road just south of State Route 905, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. The first engine arrived within 10 minutes.

Crews raced to protect several nearby homes from the spreading flames, which also sparked spot fires in open fields. Helicopters dropped water on the heart of the fire burning in the scrap yard.


“The wind typically kicks up in the afternoon down in South Bay and today was no exception,” fire officials reported. “The wind is definitely not cooperating.”

A helicopter flies near black plumes of smoke
Black plumes of smoke can be seen coming from a storage yard on Cactus Road just south of State Route 905 on Saturday.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Fire officials reported an hour of intense firefighting that ultimately saved three homes. One had exterior heat damage. Twenty people were evacuated.

The area — just a mile north of the U.S.-Mexico border — consists of a few homes and businesses surrounded by grassy fields and commercial warehouses.

By 2:30 p.m., the blaze was reported to be active but largely under control. Crews were expected to remain on scene overnight to prevent flare-ups.

“Heavy equipment will be used to move stacked cars and containers to extinguish smoldering debris,” officials said on Twitter.


Several agencies — including those from Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection — assisted, with 130 personnel assigned to the scene at one point.

People stand on the side of a road looking at black smoke
People gather on the side of State Route 905 to watch an Otay Mesa junkyard burn Saturday.
(Alejandro Tamayo / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The smoke could be seen from many parts of the county. It made for slow traffic on SR-905 as passing drivers paused to gawk — at times pulling to the shoulder to take photos, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Gary Warth contributed to this report.