SAN DIEGO — With San Diego County under a red flag wildfire warning Thursday due to extreme Santa Ana winds, a small vegetation fire erupted in San Diego just south of Interstate 8 and Hotel Circle South.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department personnel were dispatched to fight the blaze just after 5:45 a.m. in the canyon south of the Hampton Inn at 2151 Hotel Circle South, according to an agency incident log.
With the extreme wildfire threat looming over the region, the fire department dispatched four engines, three brush rigs, two helicopters and at least one water tender.
Initial reports from the scene indicated the blaze likely broke out at a homeless encampment and had burned a roughly 30-feet-by-30-feet patch of vegetation by the time firefighters started dousing the flames around 6:15 a.m. Rugged canyon terrain hampered fire crews’ efforts to reach the flames with a hose.
Firefighters originally responded to a Mission Hills neighborhood at the top of the canyon before deciding to attack the blaze from Hotel Circle South below.
A red flag wildfire warning from the National Weather Service remained in effect Thursday and was set to expire late Saturday night, while a high wind warning was set to expire at 4 p.m. Friday. The red flag warning signifies a high risk of wildfire because of high winds and low humidity — forecasters said minimum humidity levels were at 5 percent Thursday — while the high wind warning indicates sustained wind speeds of 40 miles per hour and 58-mph gusts.
Even stronger gusts were expected throughout Thursday potentially exceeding 80 mph, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Cal Fire officials said the Southern California region is bracing for “epic winds … and extremely dry conditions.”
“The fire potential with this Santa Ana event is extreme,” the Forest Service said on its Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index page. “Easterly winds of 20 to 45 mph can be expected with gusts exceeding 80 mph over the higher terrain and in the more wind prone areas. Humidity will be in the 5- to 15- percent range. Fires will spread very rapidly through all fuel types. Any new fires will have a high probability of becoming large in a short period of time.”
The conditions expected throughout San Diego County were even more extreme than the dry, windy conditions that fanned the three wildfires that have burned more than 20,000 acres in the Los Angeles area, as well as the 90,000-acre Thomas Fire in Ventura County.
Public safety officials and the weather service cautioned the public to “avoid activities that could spark a fire” and warned of the risks associated with high winds, including power outages and damaged or toppled trees or power lines.