Brush fire grows to 350 acres; highway reopens to traffic in rural North County

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Latest: 350-acre Mesa Fire burning in North County now 10% contained

SAN DIEGO — A brush fire burning in the far reaches of North County spread at a “dangerous” rate Wednesday afternoon, at one point prompting evacuation warnings and the closure of a section of highway.

The blaze broke out in the community of Pala Mesa, east of Fallbrook, some time before 3 p.m., according to Cal Fire San Diego. It was burning in an area west of Pala Casino along state Route 76.

As of 8:45 p.m., evacuation warnings had been lifted, temporary evacuation points were closed and SR-76 was reopened to traffic, the agency said. At around 7 p.m., the fire had grown to 350 acres and remained 0% contained, firefighters said, though it was moving “with a slow rate of spread” after gaining ground rapidly through the afternoon.

“Firefighters will be working through the night, so drive cautiously when in the area,” Cal Fire San Diego said in a tweet.

Hours earlier, officials had said the blaze was moving at a “dangerous rate of spread,” and evacuation warnings were issued for surrounding residents, meaning no one was formally ordered to leave but people living in the immediate area were advised to be ready to go at any time.

Authorities also closed SR-76 between Rice Canyon Road and Pala Mission Road to give firefighters room to work and keep drivers safe.

Earlier in the day, a temporary evacuation point was set up at Valley Center High School for those who chose to leave home. Another spot for evacuees to gather and get access to resources was established at the Park and Ride lot for Interstate 15 and SR-76.

Around 4 p.m., SkyFOX video showed a large plume of gray smoke rising from the area and North County Fire Protection District said people in their region should expect to see or smell smoke, though there was no immediate threat to the broader area.

The county warned that worsening air quality in the area “may reach unhealthful levels” and that winds are expected to remain in generally the same direction Thursday.

“In areas of heavy smoke, assume that air quality levels (range from) unhealthy for sensitive groups to unhealthy for all individuals,” the San Diego Air Pollution Control district wrote. “In areas with minor smoke impacts, assume that air quality levels range from moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

People were encouraged to limit their outdoor physical activities in areas where they can smell smoke.

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