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EL CAJON, Calif. — A fast-moving fire spread from one El Cajon business to three others early Wednesday, destroying part of a strip mall and forcing residents to evacuate.

The fire broke out around 3 a.m. at the shopping center on Broadway near Ballantyne Street, just east of state Route 67, fire officials said.

Crews arrived to a “large body of fire in what appeared to be a restaurant” and the flames had ripped through four businesses total by the time firefighters could extinguish the blaze, said Batt. Chief Brent Baum with Heartland Fire-Rescue.

The fire was so significant that residents who lived on Birchwood Lane behind the stores were evacuated as a precaution. Officials were able to keep the flames from spreading beyond the strip mall, however, and some connected units were protected by a firewall, so the entire building was not destroyed.

SkyFOX flew overhead around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, when smoke was still rising from the smoldering stretch of businesses. The homes on Birchwood Lane are located within feet of the strip mall, divided by a narrow alley.

Earlier video from OnScene TV showed dozens of firefighters battling towering flames. The shops were burnt down to their foundations. Based on the address provided by officials and video from the scene, the businesses included a smoke shop, the Kabul Star Restaurant, Juanita and Ramiro’s Beauty and Barber Salon and Mina, a jewelry store.

The fire prompted a major “three-alarm” response, with firefighters from the San Miguel, Santee and San Diego fire departments joining the crews with Heartland Fire.

Eastbound traffic on Broadway was shut down in the area through the early morning hours, but officials said around 5:45 a.m. that the busy street was reopened in time for rush hour.

There were no reports of injuries in the blaze. Officials are now investigating what sparked the fire.