Wind-driven wildfire scorches hundreds of acres

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SAN DIEGO — A Santa Ana-stoked wildfire tore over swaths of brushy open land west of Black Mountain Tuesday, charring hundreds of acres alongside rural neighborhoods and forcing thousands of residential evacuations in communities between Rancho Penasquitos and Rancho Santa Fe.

Bernardo Fire

PHOTOS: Bernardo Fire

The thousands of people who had been evacuated were told at 8 p.m. they could return to their homes and although the fire was still only 5 percent contained, most of the flames had died down, and aircraft were no longer being used, said Lee Swanson, public information officer with the San Diego Fire- Rescue Department.

“Pockets and fingers of fire are still there,” Swanson said, “but the winds have died down. We will be mopping up throughout the night.” He said the winds will return in the morning, and it will probably take a couple of days to fully bring the fire under control, but at this point it “is considerably knocked down.”

No aircraft were flying this evening, although Cal Fire has aircraft that can be used at night, Swanson said.

The flames erupted for unknown reasons shortly after 10:30 a.m. off Camino San Bernardo and Nighthawk Lane in 4S Ranch and spread to within several feet of some homes, but had caused no reported injuries or structural damage as of 7 p.m.

Pushed by hot, dry winds out of the east amid summer-like temperatures, the blaze, dubbed the Bernardo Fire, snaked through canyons between high-end suburban enclaves, racing through thick vegetation faster than ground and airborne crews could douse them.

As of late afternoon, the flames had blackened at least 800 acres as it moved to the west and north through and next to developments in Del Sur, Santa Luz, Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe, according to deputies.

By early evening, crews had most of the active fire extinguished, though the extensive burn area was only about 5 percent contained, officials said.

4s28San Diego Mayor San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer tweeted that he was “closely monitoring the fire situation from the city’s Emergency Operations Center.” He added that he was “proud of the hard work of our first- responders.”

In the early afternoon, Poway Unified School District administrators evacuated pupils from Del Sur, Stone Ranch and Willow Grove elementary schools by bus. Students at Del Norte High School, near the point of the fire’s origin, and at Oak Valley middle school were directed to remain in their classrooms as a precaution, PUSD spokeswoman Jessica Wakefield said.

No serious air-quality issues were reported at any of the campuses, though the smoke was fairly thick at Del Sur Elementary at midday, Wakefield said.

As of 5 p.m., authorities had cleared out residents and closed traffic lanes along Artesian Road; Calle Mayer; Camino del Sur; Deer Ridge Road; Del Sur Court; El Sicomoro at Via De Santa Fe; Entrada de Luz East; Run of the Knolls; and San Dieguito Road in the area of El Apajo and Montien Road, according to San Diego police.

Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, sections of Rancho Penasquitos and a few areas south of Carmel Valley also were evacuated.

Those displaced by the blaze were being directed to temporary shelter facilities at Rancho Bernardo and Torrey Pines high schools.

Among those who vacated their homes for safety’s sake was San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey, who lives in Black Mountain Ranch. He advised others in threatened areas to do likewise.

“All residents who are under mandatory evacuation notices should respect the direction of our first-responders,” Kersey said.

“Lives depend on all of our cooperation. If you feel your family is in danger and you have not received an evacuation notice, voluntary evacuation is an option.”

About 5,000 households were under evacuation orders at the height of the emergency. Most people were expected to be able to return home this evening, except for residents of a few neighborhoods in Rancho Penasquitos and Del Sur, SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman said at an early-evening briefing. Anyone with questions about evacuations was asked to call 211, a government information line.

“We are very pleased to say that there were no injuries during this evacuation,” Zimmerman said. “It was very orderly.”

Faulconer praised firefighters for their effective work in protecting structures during the conflagration.

“Our San Diego region has come a long way (in suppressing major wildfires), and this has been very evident in the response today,” Faulconer said.

Faulconer said he had declared a local state of emergency due to the fire, a move that will allow the city to seek outside emergency funds to help defray the costs of extinguishing it.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Javier Mainar noted that such extreme fire events have historically been uncommon in the springtime.

“It is unusual in May to have wind-driven fires like this that are such a challenge to contain,” Mainar told news crews.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, fire officials said.


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Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:35 AM

The fire has blackened several acres. Winds of 15 to 20 mph are pushing the flame west, away from homes toward a construction site.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:36 AM

Firefighters on the ground are being aided by the SDFD’s water-dropping helicopter and at least one fixed-wing airplane.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:38 AM

A long line of flames can be seen burning through grassland on the leading edge of the fire.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:40 AM

Another area of heavy flames can be seen climbing a brush covered hill. The flames are burning toward about a dozen two-story homes built on the canyon edge.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:41 AM

A Cal Fire air tanker just dropped a load of red fire retardant in the path of the flames heading toward the homes.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:42 AM

The retardant has temporarily stopped the advancing wall of flames.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:43 AM

A Cal Fire tanker drops retardant to protect homes.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:46 AM

Flames climb out of a canyon toward homes.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:47 AM

Flames burn through grassland toward a construction site.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:48 AM

The fire has burned several acres. The wind is blowing away from the nearby homes.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:51 AM

Fire Department spokeman Lee Swanson says firefighters are in position to protect homes and the wind direction is aiding them.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201411:58 AM

Swanson said no homes are currently in danger.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201412:14 PM

Fire crews take up protective positions in front of a row of homes.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201412:17 PM

Swanson estimates that the fire has blackened 10 to 15 acres.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201412:19 PM

Flames roar through dry brush.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201412:21 PM

The wind is pushing the fire toward bare land cleared for construction of more homes.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201412:24 PM

School officials at Del Norte High School say classes are continuing as normal, but they are in contact with fire officials and are closely monitoring the wildfire.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201412:42 PM

Cal Fire now says the fire has blackened about 65 acres and it continues to spread.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201412:49 PM

Watch live coverage of the fire.

Bob Ponting May 13, 201412:52 PM

Santa Ana winds continue to push the fire west through open grassland and brush. 

Bob Ponting May 13, 201412:57 PM

Flames burn close to a fire department helicopter

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:00 PM

Police have begun evacuating some residences in the path of the fire. People are being told to move to Torrey Pines High School. 

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:01 PM

Wind gusts of up to 27 mph are whipping the flames.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:05 PM

This isn’t the only fire today. A brush fire destroyed to mobile homes in Campo this morning.  The blaze erupted near Shockey Truck Trail at about 10:40 a.m., according to Cal Fire. Ground and airborne crews were able to contain the burn area to about four acres.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:09 PM

Stone Ranch Elementary is being evacuated as a precaution due to
the fires in the area. Parents/guardians can pick up students at Rancho
Bernardo High School at 13010 Paseo Lucido, San Diego, CA 92128.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:12 PM

School officials say buses are being staged near schools in the 4S Ranch area as a precaution, but no other schools have been evacuated yet.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:18 PM

Authorities are conducting evacuations and closing traffic lanes along Camino del Sur and Del Sur Court, according to San Diego police.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:20 PM

Students at Willow Grove Elementary School are being evacuated to Westview High School, according to the school website.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:25 PM

A tanker drops retardant in front of the fire.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:29 PM

Smoke from the fire advances toward some large homes.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:33 PM

An airtanker makes a drop near Carmel Valley Road.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:37 PM

A helicopter fills up with water at a pond near the fire.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:44 PM

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:48 PM

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:49 PM

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:53 PM

Thick black smoke billows up when the fire hits heavy brush.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20141:55 PM

The evacuation center for Willow Grove Elementary School students has changed now to Torrey Pines High School. Originally officials said students would go to Westview High School.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:01 PM

Cal Fire reports the fire has charred 300 acres. Evacuations have been ordered for some homes in the Black Mountain Ranch and Santaluz areas.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:08 PM

The fire is now burning close to the Santaluz Club golf course.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:15 PM

So far, the fire has burned only brush and grassland.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:22 PM

After several years of drought, brush is primed to burn.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:23 PM

Kimberly King, spokeswoman at Cathedral Catholic High School, says residents in the Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Penasquitos areas are receiving reverse 911 calls from the SD police requesting them to evacuate.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:25 PM

The fire is heading southwest toward Fairbanks Ranch, according to a tweet from SDPD:

Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:26 PM

Del Sur Elementary School students are now being evacuated to Torrey Pines High School, police say.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:29 PM

Prevailing winds are blowing southwest at about 27 mph. Humidity is about 7 percent, which is very low.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:30 PM

San Diego Police Department reports that all of Fairbanks Ranch is now being evacutated.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:54 PM
Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:54 PM
Bob Ponting May 13, 20142:58 PM

Police are evacuation about 1,000 homes in the Torrey Pines area. Evacuation centers are being set up at Torrey Pines High School, Poway High School and Rancho Bernardo High School.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20143:08 PM

SDPD is ordering the evacuation of all Black Mountain residents in these two zip codes: 92127 and 92129. That is an area west of I-15 between the Los Penasquitos Preserve in the south and the Del Dios Highway in the north.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20143:35 PM

The Helen Woodward Animal Shelter is evacuating its animals because of the fire.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20143:40 PM

This map shows the areas being evacuated because of the Bernardo Fire.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20143:50 PM

This shows the fire looking west as of about 3:30 p.m. Carmel Valley Road is the large road on the left of the photo. Black Mountain Open Space begins to the left of Carmel Valley Road.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20143:57 PM

An arm of the Bernardo Fire moves up a canyon toward homes.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20144:21 PM

The fire has burned more than 700 acres now. So far there are no reports of any damage to homes.

Sandra Phillips May 13, 20144:25 PM

Bob Ponting May 13, 20144:54 PM

Police say the following road have been closed because of the fire:

·         Camino Del Sur at Rancho Bernardo Road

Eastbound San Dieguito at Apajo

Northbound Camino Del Sur from San Dieguito

Bob Ponting May 13, 20145:00 PM

Bob Ponting May 13, 20145:08 PM

Sandra Phillips May 13, 20145:15 PM

How to sign up your cell phone to receive Reverse 911 calls:

dawinnick May 13, 20145:17 PM

Bob Ponting May 13, 20145:20 PM

A helicopter drops water on flaming brush.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20145:26 PM

Update from SD County Emergency Services: Additional evacuations ordered for the Fairbanks Ranch and eastern Rancho Santa Fe areas. 1,809 homes and businesses were notified at 4:05 p.m. to evacuate to Torrey Pines High School.

Sandra Phillips May 13, 20145:29 PM

Bob Ponting May 13, 20145:33 PM

The fire has grown to 800 acres and continues to burn out of control, fire officials say. There are still no reports of damage to structures.

dawinnick May 13, 20145:40 PM

Sandra Phillips May 13, 20145:55 PM

In addition to the Fairbanks Ranch area, people living in Eastern Rancho Santa Fe and Rancho Penasquitos are being evacuated from their homes. Sheriff’s deputies are going door to door.

New evacuation center is now open at Rancho Bernardo High School located at 13010 Paseo Lucido. People at the evacuation center at Torrey Pines High School will be moved to the new center.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20145:58 PM

Bob Ponting May 13, 20146:00 PM

Firefighters report that the winds are dying down, slowing the fire’s advance.

Bob Ponting May 13, 20146:01 PM

dawinnick May 13, 20146:04 PM

dawinnick May 13, 20146:33 PM

Sandra Phillips May 13, 20147:20 PM

Sandra Phillips May 13, 20148:13 PM

All schools in the Poway Unified School District will be open Wednesday.

Sandra Phillips May 13, 20148:29 PM


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