Brush fires fueled by high heat, winds slam San Diego County

A firefighter approaches a burning home along Olive View Road during a wildfire in Alpine.
(Eduardo Contreras / Associated Press)

Fueled by scorching heat and strong winds, several brush fires encircled San Diego County on Friday, incinerating multiple structures and forcing the evacuation of 2,400 people.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in San Diego County, saying that the largest fire in Alpine, near Interstate 8 and West Willows Road, posed “extreme peril” to public safety.

That blaze, dubbed the West fire, ignited at 11:25 a.m. and scorched 400 acres before firefighters stopped its forward progress about five hours later. By nightfall, the fire was 5% contained. The cause of the blaze was under investigation, said Capt. Kendal Bortisser of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.


Several hundred firefighters were battling the blaze from the ground and air. Two firefighters were hospitalized, with one suffering heat-related injuries and another slight burns to his face.

“We have made great progress [on the fire] but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Bortisser said. “The fuels are stressed. You combine that with winds and high heat and you have the potential for a disastrous wildfire.”

Temperatures hit 109 degrees in Alpine, with winds 25 mph to 35 mph, said Jimmy Taeger, a National Weather Service meteorologist in San Diego. He said temperatures were expected to drop slightly Saturday but that a heat advisory would remain in effect.

Red Cross spokeswoman Emily Cox said an overnight shelter was opened at Los Coches Creek Middle School, east of El Cajon. Companion pets would be allowed there.

In the parking lot outside the shelter, Ben Stanfill sat sweating on a rock, his motorcycle helmet propped on a smaller rock at his feet.

He got a call about 1 p.m. from his mother, asking him to go to her house and pick up her cat. He raced there on his motorcycle, where he met up with his sister and her boyfriend.

A little before 4 p.m., Stanfill, his mother, his sister and her boyfriend arrived at the shelter, loaded down with belongings.

“We just grabbed everything you can’t replace or re-buy,” Stanfill said. “My grandma’s photographs, the cat, my sister’s Mickey Mouse teddy bear she’s had since she was little.”

Stanfill’s mother’s house was not in a mandatory evacuation area, and the family was unsure how close the flames may have gotten. They just wanted to be safe.

“Now we just wait and see,” Stanfill said.

Area resident Enrique Camargo said he ran toward the fire area to check its progress after getting word that he was supposed to evacuate. His wife got busy packing the car.

Still, he said was not sure if they would follow through with leaving.

“Let’s see what happens,” Camargo said.

Another resident, who asked not to use his last name, said in a cellphone call about 1:30 p.m. Friday that he was perhaps 600 yards from the fire. He had no idea if his home was OK.

“I can’t get to my house,” Randy said. “They [officials] won’t let me get to my house.”

Aerial television footage showed what appeared to be five or six mobile homes and vehicles on fire. Later footage showed single-family homes catching fire.

Bortisser could not say when residents would be allowed to return to their homes.

Two fires were burning at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, and residents from about 750 homes were evacuated. Some were sent to a McDonald’s on base.

The largest broke out about 11:30 a.m. and had burned 125 acres as of 6 p.m.

In Dulzura, a fast-moving brush fire that destroyed a garage, shed and mobile home also threatened other structures along Community Building Road off state Route 94, fire officials said.

Some residents evacuated after an estimated 10 acres burned quickly through the area. The blaze was 75% contained by Friday evening, Bortisser said.

In San Bernardino County, a fast-moving fire that ignited Friday afternoon had grown to 1,000 acres by nightfall, prompting a mandatory evacuation of the Forest Falls area. Residents aiming to leave posted photos of firefighters hosing water on the flames, plumes of black and gray smoke, and traffic jams.

“My girlfriend and her family are trapped in a long line of cars that are blocked up in Forest Falls trying to get out,” wrote a Twitter user, M.O. Marmalade. “I hope they can get everyone through this junction ASAP.”

A mandatory evacuation also was underway in Goleta in southern Santa Barbara County after a vegetation fire ignited about 8:45 p.m. and threatened multiple structures. Santa Barbara County fire official Mike Eliason said five strike teams were called to the scene.

Then he abruptly ended the phone call. “I got flames in my face,” he said.

Repard, Figueroa and Pearlman write for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Times staff writer Teresa Watanabe in Los Angeles contributed to this report.