4,100-Acre Lilac Fire Injures Three Firefighters, Destroys Dozens of Structures

Some 20,000 people were without power as a result of the fire

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As diminishing winds and higher humidity levels assisted crews in slowing the Lilac Fire's growth Friday, authorities reduced mandatory evacuation orders to warnings in several areas.

The fire scorched about 4,100 acres within 24 hours near Fallbrook and destroyed at least 105 structures and damaged 15 others but slowed overnight and Friday thanks to diminishing winds.

Thousands of North County residents fled their homes after the blaze broke out for unknown reasons about 11:25 a.m. Thursday just west of Interstate 15 and north of Lilac Road in Pala Mesa amid gusty, arid weather.

At least 1,500 structures remained threatened as the fire was 15 percent contained Friday night.

Cal Fire this evening downgraded evacuation orders to voluntary evacuation warnings in the following areas:

  • West of Wilshire Road to North River Road;
  • South of North River Road from Wilshire to Holly Lane;
  • South of Holly Lane from North River Road to Mission Road;
  • South of Little Gopher Canyon Road to Sagewood Road;
  • South of Dentro De Lomas at Nors Ranch Road;
  • Via Maria Elena south of Camino Del Rey;
  • Camino Del Rey south of Bobritt Lane;
  • Aquaduct Road south of Via Ulner Way;
  • North of Tumbleweed Lane between Sleeping Indian Road and Olive
  • Hill Road;
  • South Mission north of Hellers Bend;
  • Sunset Grove Road north of Via Encinos;
  • Alta Vista Drive north of Palomar Drive;
  • Linda Vista Drive north of La Canada Road;
  • Knottwood Way north of Flowerwood Lane;
  • Gird Road north of Mary Lewis Drive;
  • Sage Road north of Brodea Lane;

California Highway Patrol officers will not offer escorts into areas affected by the Lilac Fire, the agency said Friday afternoon.

Despite a lack of flames and smoke in some areas affected by the fire, hotspots could still be fanned by Santa Ana winds forecast for the weekend, and authorities said other evacuation orders will remain in place.

"Just because we're not seeing smoke in the air doesn't mean that we've turned the corner on this fire," Chief Ken Pimlott, director of Cal Fire, said early Friday afternoon.

Lighter winds are forecast to continue through Friday night. Santa Ana winds will increase again Saturday and peak Sunday morning, with gusts up to 65 mph in the mountains and western foothills of San Diego County, according to the National Weather Service.

Cal Fire and Cal OES damage assessment teams have began their inspections. As inspections are completed, damaged and destroyed numbers are likely to change, authorities said.

Some 20,000 people were without power as a result of the fire. There were at least six injuries reported Thursday, including a firefighter who dislocated a shoulder and one who was taken to a hospital for smoke inhalation.

Three non-firefighters suffered burn wounds of unknown severity while another person suffered a case of smoke inhalation.

More than 1,000 firefighters and other personnel were working the fire, aided by 15 helicopters, including some military aircraft, Kendal Bortisser of Cal Fire said.

San Diego County was quick to proclaim a state of local emergency mid-afternoon Thursday, helping make the region eligible for state and federal resources.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state emergency proclamation for San Diego County and Friday morning President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for the state due to the Lilac Fire and other large fires burning in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

After breaking out Thursday, the flames moved quickly as the blaze grew to 50 acres as ground and airborne crews labored to keep the blaze from becoming an out-of-control conflagration like others raging this week across Southern California.

Authorities set up evacuation centers for the displaced at Bostonia Recreation Center in El Cajon, Carlsbad Forum in Carlsbad, East Valley Community Center in Escondido and at Oceanside and Fallbrook high schools.

A shelter at the Stagecoach Community Park filled to capacity Thursday night and evacuees were asked to go instead to the East Valley Community Center.

The Oceanside High School shelter also filled to capacity Friday morning and evacuees were asked to go instead to a newly opened shelter at Palomar College.

People with horses and livestock were advised to take their animals to shelter at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. At least two dozen horses were killed when the fire raced through the San Luis Rey Training Center in Bonsall, where nearly 500 horses are stabled.

Aircraft from San Diego and Kern County were being used to conduct overnight water drops, according to Cal Fire Deputy Chief Dave Nissen.

About 70 sheriff's deputies were working in the fire-ravaged area, handling road closures and providing security for evacuated homes.

Residents near the fire should not wait for a mandatory evacuation order or a knock on the door from law enforcement, Sheriff William D. Gore said. They should rely on common sense and leave their homes if they feel they are in danger, he said.

Campuses in at least 11 school districts including in Bonsall, Carlsbad, Fallbrook, Julian, San Marcos and Vista were closed Friday. All classes and campus events in the Palomar Community College District were canceled.

The cause of the blaze -- which broke out amid a National Weather Service "red flag" wildfire warning slated to expire Sunday night -- was not immediately clear.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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