Fire Season Begins

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Bajadock: Have been through the stretch of hwy 94 and Otay Lakes Road dozens of times.  Good news is that it is not highly populated, if they can prevent fire from spreading to Dulzura.  Fire location is very close to the CBP checkpoint on 94.  Hwy 94 closure from Honey Springs Road over to 188(Tecate border crossing) will be painful for locals.  Fire season is upon us, so be careful out there.

SDUT

A wildfire burning south of Jamul had scorched more than 1,000 acres by Saturday night and was threatening Dulzura.

Residents in Dulzura were alerted to the possible need to evacuate their homes, and some did. The Viejas casino parking lot on Interstate 8 at Willows Road was designated as a temporary evacuation point, where Red Cross volunteers offered food and water.

The Red Cross later set up an overnight shelter at Otay Ranch High School, at 1250 Olympic Pkwy in Chula Vista.

Authorities sealed off several backcountry roads and evacuated a campground as wind-swept flames roared through rolling, grassy hills at a “dangerous rate,” Cal Fire said within an hour of the fire’s start.

Residents with animals in the path of the fire should leave early and take pets with them, advised Dan DeSousa, director of the county Department of Animal Services. If help is needed to evacuate animals, owners can call the agency’s 24-hour emergency line at (619) 236-2341.

Dulzura residents who left their homes were not allowed back in until about 10 p.m., when fire officials deemed it safe enough for them to be on the road with a sheriff’s deputy escort.

The blaze, called the Gate fire, broke out south of Otay Lakes Road and west of state Route 94, near a Border Patrol checkpoint, about 11:20 a.m.

Investigators were trying to determine the cause of the fire. It started on a dirt road off SR-94 leading to a Bureau of Land Management recreational area commonly used for target shooting, Cal Fire Capt. Isaac Sanchez said. He said the dirt road is behind a local landmark pink gate, which was chosen for the fire’s name.

SR-94 was shut down between Honey Springs Road and state Route 188, and Otay Lakes Road was closed between Wueste Road and SR-94. Residents were not being allowed through. Motorists are advised to avoid the area.

Winds pushed the blaze west toward Pio Pico RV Resort and Campground, which was evacuated early on as a precaution. Campers were directed to the Eastlake Walmart parking lot in Chula Vista.

County animal control officers rescued one dog from the campground because no owner was there, DeSousa said. They were returning later in the day to rescue a dog heard inside a trailer. An animal control officer also went to the Walmart to see if campground evacuees there needed anything.

The San Diego Humane Society also sent a response team to the Otay Ranch High evacuation center with food and supplies for pets.

Late Saturday night, Cal Fire sent out a notice that Pio Pico would remain closed because of fire damage to certain park infrastructure.

The fire pushed north close to the edge of Otay Lakes Road as fire crews worked to make sure flames did not jump the road.

A late-afternoon shift in the breezes then sent flames southeast, toward the community of Dulzura, Sanchez said. He said mostly grass with some sparse brush was burning, and air tankers did a good job laying down a barrier of fire retardant to slow the fire’s spread.

The San Diego County emergency website noted that at 6:30 p.m., the following emergency message was sent to 77 contacts by the Sheriff’s Department: “There is a fire in the area of Dulzura. The wind is blowing to the East and there is a concern that the fire may spread to your area. You are being advised to be ready to evacuate if notified to do so. You may evacuate now if you choose to do so. The evacuation route is Highway 94 East to Buckman Springs North to Interstate 8 West. Take interstate 8 West to East Willows Road. Exit East Willows Road and turn right(north). Continue West on East Willows Road to the Viejas Casino. The Red Cross will have a temporary evacuation center located in the casino parking lot. This a fire warning only, not an evacuation order.”

Updates on the site are available at sdcountyemergency.com.

A Chula Vista police officer who was directing traffic near Otay Lakes and Wueste was struck by a vehicle about 2:30 p.m., suffering serious but not life-threatening injuries, police said. The officer, who has been on the force 2½ years, was taken to a hospital.

Five air tankers and three helicopters made numerous water and retardant drops on fire all afternoon. Fire crews from several agencies were helping on the ground.

Smoke from the blaze could be seen from many parts of the county.

Temperatures reached 91 degrees by 1 p.m. in the area with 10 percent relative humidity, according to the National Weather Service. Winds were light but gusting to 21 mph. The forecast was for slightly cooler temperatures on Sunday, with a high of 86, but just as breezy as Saturday.

In a separate area at the other end of the county, a blaze that broke out Friday afternoon on the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base had burned an estimated 500 acres as of Saturday afternoon. It was 75 percent contained and not threatening any structures, base officials tweeted. The fire started in a northeast section of the base, off De Luz Road.

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Fire officials have been warning San Diego County residents for months that this summer could be an especially bad season for wildfires, after heavy winter rains encouraged thick growth of tall grasses and brush. Residents near canyons and in rural settings are encouraged to trim vegetation back to 100 feet from homes and take other fire-safety precautions.

Staff writer Gary Robbins contributed to this report.

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