Updated: Last evacuation orders lifted for Lilac Fire

Updated: Last evacuation orders lifted for Lilac Fire
Firefighters battle the Lilac Fire in northern San Diego County on Dec. 7. Photo by Jeff Hall/Cal Fire

Update

9:57 a.m. DEC. 11 | All evacuation orders for the Lilac Fire were lifted Sunday after crews managed etch fire lines around 60 percent of the blaze.

All roads were re-opened by about 4 p.m., including state Route 76, which was completely re-opened between Oceanside and Interstate 15.

Officials were still restricting access to two areas badly damaged by the fire: the Rancho Monserate Country Club in Fallbrook, as well as an area between 5200 Olive Hill Rd and 5800 Olive Hill Road in Fallbrook.

The number of firefighters and other personnel battling the Lilac Fire reached a peak of 1,409 today and officials at the central command center say they’re likely to begin releasing crews from duty now that the fire has reached 60 percent containment.

The majority of those crews Sunday worked on strengthening containment lines and putting out hot spots. The fire has largely been contained on its east side near Interstate 15.

Their efforts today focused on clearing lines of brush to stop the fire in its tracks on its western side near Bonsall, officials said.

“The fire’s looking really good, despite the wind,” Cal Fire public information officer and Battalion Chief Henry Herrera said. “If we can get through today I think we’ll be in pretty good shape for the remainder of this incident.”

Firefighters learned about their duties at a 7 a.m. briefing Sunday at Kit Carson Park in Escondido, where a miniature city has been set up with one purpose: To support everything needed to completely extinguish the Lilac Fire.

Meals, hoses, breathing masks, office supplies and medical care are all available at the camp.

The “trailer city” was set up shortly after the fire broke out, Herrera said. The blaze began at around 11:15 a.m. on Thursday, just west of I-15 and north of Lilac Road in Pala Mesa, amid gusty, arid winds.

The fire has held at 4,100 acres since Thursday night. It has destroyed at least 182 structures and damaged 23 others. Thousands of North County residents were forced to evacuate their homes after the blaze broke out.

At least 1,500 structures remain threatened, authorities said.

Santa Ana winds will gradually weaken this afternoon though humidity will remain very low, according to the National Weather Service

The agency’s red flag warning will be lifted at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Fire officials began setting up the command center after determining the blaze would need massive man power.

It’s a joint command center, which means all decisions are made jointly by leaders from Cal Fire, the North County Fire District and the Vista and Oceanside fire departments.

Firefighters from those companies are joined by crews from across the west and as far away as Alaska.

They all speak the same firefighting language, Herrera said, which means once new crews arrive they can quickly learn about their assignments and get out in the field without having to learn local jargon.

Fire departments and other agencies from in and out-of-state brought with them 22 bulldozers, 163 engines, 24 water tankers and 14 helicopters.

The equipment not being used was lined up in parking lots at the Escondido park Sunday afternoon as the camp buzzed with activity preparing for firefighters’ return home that evening.

Thousands of breakfasts and dinners are prepared by state prison inmates. Bagged lunches, including vegetarian options, are distributed to crews before they head out to fight the fire.

The meals clock in at about 2,000 calories each and are meant to sustain firefighters during the entirety of their grueling shifts, Herrera said.

Crews either sleep in hotels or pitch tents in one of the park’s designated sleeping areas.

The camp’s “Main Street” consists of a row of trailers that serve every function. One houses the command bosses and another handles accounting for the incident. There’s even one just for making copies of documents.

Herrera said that many of the firefighters expected to be released today will be assigned to fight other blazes ravaging Southern California, such as the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, which is at 170,000 acres and growing.

Earlier

PALA MESA — Santa Ana winds failed to show at the 4,100-acre Lilac Fire overnight, giving firefighters an assist as they etched fire lines around 60 percent of the blaze today.

More than 1,400 fire personnel entered the fourth day of battling the flames.

“Firefighters continue to improve and increase the contaionment lines,” said the morning Cal Fire assessment, which added that the weather “has been favorable for firefighters.”

Firefighters battle the Lilac Fire in northern San Diego County on Dec. 7. Photo by Jeff Hall/Cal Fire

The blaze has destroyed at least 182 structures and damaged 23 others.

Thousands of North County residents fled their homes after the fire broke out around 11:15 a.m. on Thursday, just west of Interstate 15 and north of Lilac Road in Pala Mesa, amid gusty, arid winds.

About 110 people who remain evacuated from their homes due to the fire have been consolidated to two shelters: Palomar College in San Marcos and Bostonia Park and Recreation Center in El Cajon, according to San Diego County.

Large animals were sheltered at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

At least 1,500 structures remain threatened, authorities said.

The number of acres affected by the fire has remained steady since Thursday night. Since then, firefighters have been working to increase the containment of the fire — reducing the number of hot spots that could reignite when fanned by Santa Ana winds.

“There’s still tons and tons of hot spots out there,” Cal Fire Capt. Jon Heggie told KUSI on Saturday morning.

Crews have largely transitioned their efforts from the air to the ground, he said. Strong winds are expected to continue today. A Red Flag Warning issued by the National Weather Service is in effect until 8 p.m. The strongest winds are expected in the San Diego County mountains and foothills, with gusts over 60 mph, accord to the NWS.

The winds, coupled with humidity levels below 15 percent, make for prime fire conditions.

“Winds will diminish steadily from Sunday afternoon through Sunday night, and the critical fire weather conditions will wane Sunday night,” the NWS said. “However, offshore flow will prevail through next week and continue very low humidity and occasional local gusty winds, though current indications are that we will have elevated versus critical fire weather conditions most of the week.”

People should avoid activities that could cause fires, authorities said. That includes keeping vehicles off dry grass, practicing safe towing, avoiding activities with open flames, properly discarding cigarettes and obeying burn bans.

State damage assessment teams have begun their inspections, and damaged and destroyed numbers are likely to change, authorities said.

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.

State Route 76 from the Interstate 15 Freeway and East Vista Way remains closed.

Evacuation orders are in effect for the following areas:

— West Lilac Road;

— Sullivan Middle School;

— South of Burma Road,

— east of Wilshire Road, north of North River Road;

— west of South Mission Avenue;

— South of Reche Road, west of Interstate 15;

— East of Green Canyon Road and South Mission Road, North of Highway 76.

Evacuation warnings are in effect for the following areas:

— North of Pala Road;

— South of Reche Road;

— West of Interstate 15 Freeway, east of Green Canyon Road and West Mission Road;

— West of Wilshire Road to North River Road;

— South of North River Road from Wilshire Road 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.

The county has issued boil water orders for some areas affected by power outages: the Boulevard Pines Movile Home and RV Park in Boulevard, Butterfield Ranch in Julian and Cameron Corners and Campo Group in Campo. The order will be lifted once tests confirm water in those areas is not contaminated by bacteria.

Legoland California re-opened Saturday after closing Friday, due to the fire.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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