A brush fire in El Cajon Saturday was caused by police training, officials confirmed.
The blaze began around 2:45 p.m. in brush near the 1700 block of Reuben Fleet Drive by Weld Drive and Cuyamaca Street, officials said.
When Heartland Fire crews responded they found the fire burning up a hill. It took crews more than an hour, in dangerous fire conditions, to control the brush fire. The fire was eventually contained at four acres by 4 p.m.
The fire began as a result of an exercise between police and SWAT officers when a non-incendiary device was used at a firing range according to officials.
“A non-pyrotechnic smoke device lit off the grass,” explained Heartland Fire official Sonny Saghera.
A fire suppression vehicle was on the scene as a precaution, but the fire spread too quickly up a nearby hill, Saghera said.
Shortly after the fire began, an NBC 7 San Diego viewer said her daughter was driving out of El Cajon when embers from the fire blew into her car and burned her arm. The woman also said her granddaughter's car was covered in ashes after driving into El Cajon near Lexington Avenue.
Other residents reported seeing smoke coming from Gillespie Business Park. Smoke stemming from the El Cajon hillside fire could also be seen from east La Mesa.
The 1800 block of Hacienda Drive between Altozano Way and Hacienda Circle was temporarily closed due to the fire. No home evacuations were ordered.
Officials said one firefighter injured his knee battling the brush fire and was transported to Grossmont Hospital.
The fire training exercise by police was conducted during especially dry, hot weather – just as the Red Flag warning in San Diego had expired. Cal Fire officials have been warning the public about the increased fire danger for the past several days.
El Cajon police could not be reached for comment regarding why this type of training was being conducted near brush under hot and dry conditions in the first place.
For residents in El Cajon and neighboring Fletcher Hills, the hillside blaze was too close for comfort.
“I was in the middle of my lunch, I looked up and I thought, ‘You know what, it's time to put your sandwich down and [start] spraying some water,’” El Cajon resident Jody Foster told NBC 7.
One local who used to evacuate to the El Cajon area from Alpine was slightly worried about the nearby flames.
“I never felt like it was going to get close to the house, but it was certainly possible,” said Ponzio Oliverio.
Heartland Fire said the El Cajon blaze serves as a reminder that even without the official Red Flag warning, fire danger is still high.
This brush fire came on the heels of another blaze that sparked in Rancho San Diego Friday. That fire was also contained within an hour, before any homes in the area were affected.