After an extensive investigation, the San Diego City Metro Arson Strike Team (MAST) released new details Tuesday on the cause and origin of San Diego’s Bernardo Fire, including the name of the company responsible for the construction work that sparked the blaze on May 13.
According to officials, construction work – specifically flames sparked at an excavation site – caused the fire, which started off Nighthawk Lane, southwest of Rancho Bernardo.
The fast-spreading fire scorched 1,548 acres in San Diego’s North County and forced thousands of evacuations. It was fully contained many days later, on May 17, amid the firestorm that raged in the county.
According to new information released by investigators on Tuesday, the fire occurred at a construction site known as the “Camelot Site,” which was in the early stage of development.
GEOCON Incorporated was conducting soil testing on the site by digging a series of small trenches. Observers on that survey crew included a biologist, geologist, archaeologist and a Native American Preservation Specialist, investigators said.
The small trenches were dug by a backhoe operator subcontracted with Hillside Excavating.
After digging and covering one of the trenches, investigators said the survey crew started moving onto the next excavation location. As they walked away, they noticed smoke and flames stemming from the excavated trench.
The backhoe operator and construction crew attempted to extinguish the flames, to no avail.
Investigators said the blaze spread rapidly throughout the dry brush at the site. The construction crew was forced to flee to safety.
Based on witness statements and evidence, MAST investigators determined the cause of the Bernardo Fire was accidental.
While MAST has concluded its investigation, officials said the case will be reviewed by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and City Attorney’s Office “to ensure no laws or regulations were violated by Hillside Excavating.”
NBC 7 reached out to GEOCON on Wednesday, but a company spokesperson said the company had no comment at this time.
A public information officer for the District Attorney's office told NBC 7 that the investigation on this case is under review, and officials could not comment any further at this point.
Residents in the path of the fire praised the efforts of firefighters in controlling the Bernardo Fire, which winded its way through canyons and burned just feet from backyards and buildings.
This blaze was the first in a long line of fires that ripped through San Diego County in mid-May, primarily in the North County.