Fast-Spreading Brush Fire Burns 2,056 Acres, 70 Percent Contained - NBC Southern California

Fast-Spreading Brush Fire Burns 2,056 Acres, 70 Percent Contained

The "Gate Fire" began around 11:20 a.m. off SR-94 and Otay Lakes Road, in an area called Pink Gates near a border checkpoint



    Man Who Shot Video That May Show Start of Gate Fire Speaks

    Chris Carvalho was at an outdoor shooting range in Jamul Saturday when he said a group of people shooting at dry brush may have sparked the fire. NBC 7’s Astrid Solorzano reports. (Published Sunday, May 21, 2017)

    A fast-moving brush fire sparked off State Route 94 south of Jamul Saturday morning and grew to 2,056 acres by Sunday afternoon. 

    As of 7:20 a.m. Sunday, the fire stood at 1,500 acres and was 30 percent contained, according to Cal Fire. Officials said that overnight temperatures and increased humidity allowed firefighters to make progress in fire containment.

    By 5:15 p.m. Sunday, the fire had grown to 2,056 acres but was 70 percent contained with 665 fire personnel at the scene, Cal Fire said. Shortly after Otay Lakes Road was reopened to all traffic. 

    The fire sparked Saturday at around 11:20 a.m. and grew to 1,000 acres in its first 10 hours.

    The fire is now under criminal investigation, Cal Fire officials said. They would not elaborate on the details of the investigation but said they have talked to a witness who posted an Instagram video that appeared to show people starting the fire. 

    A voluntary evacuation warning was issued for Dulzura, meaning residents should be prepared to leave if there is a mandatory evacuation order.

    Residents in the Dulzura area will be allowed back in under escort. Residents from Pio Pico campground will not be permitted to return Saturday due to infrastructure damage.

    The Red Cross has set up an overnight shelter for evacuees of both areas at Otay Ranch High School at 1250 Olympic Parkway in Chula Vista. 

    Otay Lakes Road between Wueste Road and State Route 94 is closed, and all closures along SR-94 in the area of the fire have been lifted.

    “The wind is always a factor when it comes to fires like these,” Cal Fire PIO Issac Sanchez said Saturday. “It’s a fuel-driven fire right now. It’s the heavy grass load that we’re seeing that’s a direct result of the heavy rains we received this winter.”

    Sanchez said the heavy grass allowed the fire to grow quickly and very early in its life. He added that the grass load is something firefighters are dealing with throughout the state.

    Pat Pendleton’s Jamul home was destroyed in the 2007 wildfires. She parked her car on Honey Spring Road for hours Saturday waiting to see if she could drive home. It’s the same road where she parked her car 10 years ago. She said being parked in the same spot gave her chills.

    “We've done this before, ten years ago in October, October 21st our home burned. It's very emotional, it's a feeling I haven't had for a while, and now it's back, but I think they have a handle on things a lot faster than they had in 2007 so they're doing a great job."

    Cal Fire San Diego officials said the blaze, dubbed the "Gate Fire," began around 11:20 a.m. Saturday off SR-94 and Otay Truck Trail, near Otay Lakes Road, in an area called Pink Gates near a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint station. The area is south of Jamul and northwest of Dulzura.

    At 11:45 a.m., Cal Fire reported the fire had ripped through 10 acres of vegetation, and it was spreading rapidly.

    About 15 minutes later, the area scorched by the wildfire had swelled to 100 acres. An hour later, the fire had grown to 300 acres. By 2 p.m., the Gate Fire had scorched 425 acres and was 5 percent contained, Cal Fire officials told NBC 7. By 3:30 p.m., the Gate Fire had burned 500 acres; containment remained the same.

    By 5 p.m., Cal Fire said the blaze had spread to 800 acres and was 10 percent contained. By 6:45 p.m. the fire had burned 850 acres but was 15 percent contained. By 9:30 p.m. the fire had grown to 1,000 acres and was 20 percent contained. 

    No homes were threatened, officials confirmed.

    By 12:30 p.m., however, fire crews began evacuating the nearby Pio Pico Canyon Campground and RV Resort as a precaution. The campground, a 180-acre preserve, is located at 14615 Otay Lakes Road, a few miles away from the scene of the Gate Fire.

    Four helicopters were en route to help battle the blaze, Cal Fire said, and an air tanker was also coming. Soon, those aircraft began to make water drops on the fire.

    Just after 1:30 p.m., Caltrans San Diego said traffic on SR-94 would be shut down in both directions, from Otay Lakes Road to SR-188 due to the fire. Cal Fire later said SR-94 would also be closed at Honey Springs Road, and Otay Lakes Road closed at Wueste Road. At this point, it is unclear how long those road closures will remain in place.

    Issac Sanchez, of Cal Fire San Diego, said the fire sparked near a shooting range in the area. The cause remains under investigation. Sanchez said no one had been hurt in the fire.

    However, the Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD) later confirmed that a police officer who was directing traffic around the fire area at Otay Lakes and Wueste roads was hit by a car Saturday afternoon. The officer suffered non-life threatening injuries and was taken to a hospital. He has been with the CVPD for 2-and-a-half years.

    Heavy smoke generated by the Gate Fire was seen by San Diego residents in areas like Chula Vista, Otay Lakes, Santee, San Miguel and more. People also reported seeing smoke from the fire lingering near Jamul's new Hollywood Casino.

    The temperature was around 88-degrees in Jamul Saturday when the blaze began. In NBC 7's First Alert forecast Saturday morning, Liberty Zabala noted that temperatures across San Diego County were expected to be between 10 to 15 degrees above average.

    This marks the first hot, dry weekend this month, as San Diego has experienced its typical "May Gray" over the past few weeks and even some rain.

    Zabala said Saturday's forecast included temperatures in the 90s in our inland valleys, with deserts reaching temperatures as hot as 95 degrees. Alpine and El Cajon were each expected to hit around 89 degrees.

    In other parts of California, including Los Angeles County, the National Weather Service said temperatures are also expected to climb throughout the weekend, leading to increased wildfire danger. Gusty winds and low humidity could add to the problematic conditions.

    As crews battled the Gate Fire south of Jamul, they were met with those windy conditions, as predicted.

    "Relative humidity remains low in the area and that’s concerning because the drier the air the more prone the fire is to growing," NBC 7's Llarisa Abreu said Saturday evening.

    "Winds at the moment are contained and calm, but by tomorrow winds will change in direction; moving in from the west at around 5-15 mph gusting near 20 mph. With winds changing from North to West, that poses the threat for the fire to start spreading into eastern areas."

    "Temperatures tomorrow will once again be well above average for this time of the year also making conditions hazardous and dangerous for residents and first responders," Abreu said. "Lastly, despite the rain we received during the winter, the landscape is dying, which adds more fuel for fires."

    Calfire will update road closures again at 6 a.m. Sunday. 

    NBC 7 has crews in the field, gathering the latest details; check back for updates on this developing story.

    Call Fire PIO Issac Sanchez

    “The wind is always a factor when it comes to fires like these,” “It’s a fuel-driven fire right now. It’s the heavy grass load that we’re seeing that’s a direct result of the heavy rains we received this winter.”