Investigators working to determine if El Cajon brush fire was arson

EL CAJON, Calif. -- Fire investigators in El Cajon were attempting to determine Friday morning if a small brush fire that threatened several homes near the foot of Mt. Helix was caused by an arsonist, authorities said.

The blaze at the corner of Avocado Avenue and Alzeda Drive, between Chase Avenue and Fuerte Drive, began about 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Heartland Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Mike Chasin said.

Witness Alan Hindrie said that he was driving behind three cars in the area when he saw something bright fly out the window of a vehicle and explode, igniting the brush. Whatever was tossed from the window may have been lit or already burning when it was thrown out, Hindrie said.

The cause of the blaze was under investigation Friday, but Chasin confirmed that police and arson investigators had received a report that it "may have been related to an object thrown from a vehicle."

Firefighters from Heartland substations in El Cajon and La Mesa responded to the blaze with the help of crews from the Santee Fire Department and the San Miguel Fire Protection District.

"Luckily our crews got here pretty quick," Chasin said. "They recognized the potential with all the overgrown brush and the trees that some houses were in danger."

Firefighters determined that because of narrow streets making evacuations difficult, it was safer to order families in the nearby homes to shelter in place, Chasin said. Fire crews were able to knock down the flames before they spread to any homes.

Avocado Avenue was closed between Chase Avenue and Alzeda Drive until after 10 p.m., El Cajon police said.