Firefighters Gain Upper Hand On O'side Fire

Homes near Camp Pendleton being evacuated

North County residents can breathe easier Tuesday after fire crews make progress on a fire tht burned more than 3,000 acres and forced the evacuations of thousands of people.

The Juliet Fire scorched 3,000 acres  by Tuesday morning in Camp Pendleton, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,400 homes at the huge San Diego County Marine base and in nearby Oceanside, according to the base's Web site. The fast-growing blaze had yet to burn any structures on the base.

Few flames from the fire were visible Tuesday morning, however, but firefighters remained on the scene putting out spot fires. Cal Fire said that the fire was 25 percent contained -- or surrounded early Tuesday.

Marine officials said Tuesday that the cause of the fire was unknown, but they did stress that "no live fire or incendiary training was being conducted in the training area" when the blaze began.

The Juliet Fire was first reported around 3:30 p.m. and was burning on the base near the Vandegrift Gate.  As of 6:14 p.m., the flames had actually burned right up to the gate.  Authorities said the fire began on an explosives training range but the cause was not known.  As of 8:08 p.m., the San Diego County Emergency website reported 1500 acres had burned.

Just after 10 p.m., San Diego County sheriff's deputies sent out a Reverse 911 ordering mandatory evacuations for another 200 homes in Fallbrook.

Earlier in the evening, Oceanside police evacuated more than 1,000 homes, including those in the San Luis Rey housing district on base as well as the Pilgrim Creek Mobile Home Park. Off base, about 100 homes along Papagallo Road and Alexandrine Court were ordered to evacuate, according to Oceanside police. 

An evacuation center was set up at El Camino High School located at 400 Rancho del Oro Drive, where officials said there is still plenty of room.

Upon arriving at the fire scene, NBC 7/39 reporter Tony Shin said the smoke was "very thick."  He described "a wall of flames up against the homes under evacuation."

Ashley Caruso who lives on base said she was evacuated.  She estimated 500 people in her housing area were ordered to flee due to the fire.

"Police were knocking on doors ordering everyone to get out," said Caruso.

She said she estimated the flames were about 1 mile away from her home when she left.

At least one Super Scooper was seen dumping water on the blaze.  An aerial attack was being made on the fire by aircraft from San Diego and Cal Fire, Nick Schuler of Cal Fire told NBC 7/39.

This is the second major fire on Camp Pendleton in two weeks.

According to a news release from the Marine Corps, Camp Pendleton residents displaced from their homes were asked to report to the Stuart Mesa Lincoln Military Housing Office, Building 310001 in Camp Pendleton’s 31 Area.  The Paige Field House, in the 11 Area, was serving as initial collection point only.
Stuart Mesa Housing was also accepting displaced residents, and an American Red Cross site has been established there. The Red Cross site was distributing food, water, and basic toiletries.  The exchanges in Stuart Mesa and Del Mar has also extended their hours until 10 p.m., according to the release.
The San Luis Rey Gate was closed, as was the section of Vandegrift Blvd. from the San Luis Rey Gate to Rattlesnake Canyon Rd.

Col. James Seaton, Camp Pendleton’s Commanding Officer, said the fire began near the Juliet training area, a place where the military trains with explosives.

Training exercises were canceled because of the high fire danger so the Marines  don't know how it started.

"We will investigate the cause but right now that's not the first thing we're getting our arms around," said Col. Seaton.

San Diego County is in the midst of a red-flag warning until Tuesday at 6 p.m. Humidity will continue to be low, with moderate to strong winds blowing.  

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