CAMPO, Calif. — The brush fire that scorched 265 acres in Campo Wednesday — and remained at 65% containment Thursday — was caused by an improperly extinguished campfire on private property, Cal Fire investigators announced.
The fast-moving wildfire spread across hundreds of open acres in the far southeastern reaches of San Diego County Wednesday, sending a thick column of brown-and-white smoke into the air near the U.S.-Mexico border but posing no immediate structural threats.
The back-country blaze off the 31000 block of state Route 94 in the Cameron Corners area of Campo erupted for unknown reasons at about 9:45 a.m., according to Cal Fire.
“I saw three sheriff’s go by real fast,” said Bill Jervis, who lives in Campo and was one of the first to arrive at the scene.
“There was no stopping it,” Jervis said. “It was just right there in that area, where it was really thick, no one’s cut brush for years and then poof!”
Within 90 minutes, the flames had blackened roughly 25 acres as crews worked to corral them on the ground and aboard air tankers and water-dropping helicopters, the state agency reported.
As of mid-afternoon, the burn area had grown to about 265 acres, officials said.
Part of the problem was access for fire crews.
“At any time we get a fire in areas like this the terrain always plays a factor,” said Captain Issac Sanchez, Cal Fire.
Sanchez said inmate ground crews were brought in. They began to scale the hillside, working to cut in a containment line but the fire only grew stronger as winds fanned the flames.
“The wind was a major factor in this incident,” Sanchez said. “The wind blows through here fairly consistently and it blows fairly strongly and so those were the conditions we were faced with fairly early on in this incident.”
Authorities issued evacuation warnings to residents along North Campo Truck Trail and, several hours later, to people who live on La Posta Road, informing them that any direct structural threats that could arise were believed to be at least two hours from materializing.
Due to the approaching flames, the latter road was closed to through traffic between SR-94 and Old Highway 80.
By 2:30 p.m., officials had rescinded the first of the two evacuation advisories due to the movement of the blaze away from the potentially threatened area. As of 3:30 p.m., crews had the spread of the fire halted and its perimeter about 5 percent contained, at which point the other evacuation notice was lifted.
Shortly before 10 p.m., the fire was 15 percent contained.
Jervis said the moments were tense, but he knew everyone was in good hands.
“The firefighters around here, they know everybody,” said Jervis. “They drive by, they wave, they’re really good.”
One crew member suffered a minor injury while helping fight the fire and was taken to a hospital, Sanchez said.
The blaze was dubbed the Recycle Fire due to its proximity to a rural byway known to locals as “Recycle Road.”