Residents allowed to return home after San Diego brush fire under control

SAN DIEGO, CA - 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.

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 Tuesday evening, the flames had blackened at least 850 acres as it moved to the west and north through and next to developments in Del Sur, Santaluz, Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe, according to police.

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

San 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."

A total of about 5,000 households were under evacuation orders at the height of the emergency. Most people were expected to be able to return home Tuesday 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.

At about 7:20 p.m., officials said city residents that were evacuated were allowed to return to their homes.

Just before 8:30 p.m., officials announced that all countywide evacuations had been lifted.

"We are very pleased to say that there were no injuries during this evacuation," the chief said. "It was very orderly."

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

"Our region, 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.

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

San Diego Fire 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 blaze was under investigation, fire officials said.

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