San Diego

Suspect in Custody in Connection to 85-Acre Brush Fire on Camp Pendleton

Arson is suspected in the fire that scorched about 85 acres along the 800 block of Douglas Drive, near the border of Oceanside and Camp Pendleton

One person was taken into custody in connection to a brush fire on Camp Pendleton that grew to 85 acres Tuesday, Oceanside Fire Department (OFD) officials said.

Investigators said arson is strongly suspected as a cause of the fire. The suspect, identified as Jose Torres, mentioned he had set up booby traps in the area but Oceanside fire crews did not find any.

The fire sparked Tuesday just after 1 p.m. on the south side of the base, along the 800 block of Douglas Drive near the border between Oceanside and Camp Pendleton. 

Witnesses called 911 to report heavy, thick smoke in the area north of Oceanside Municipal Golf Course.

"I went out to my backyard and it was all smoke, and then I went out about an hour later and saw flames," said Sara Blanchard, who lives in the area of the fire. "I was just thinking, 'Is it going to come over here?' I couldn't believe how close it was. I could see the flames out there."

When firefighters arrived, they discovered the blaze burning in dense brush up the slope behind the golf course. It was spreading fast due to the high 12 to 15 mph winds, OFD Battalion Chief Greg de Avila said.

It had already scorched two acres and was moving quickly.

OFD crews along with crews from the Carlsbad Fire Department moved in on the fire, trying to protect homes in the nearby Pilgrim Creek Estates community. Residents there were told to shelter in place.

Residents were told they could evacuate, voluntarily, and head to the community center while firefighters worked to contain the fire. No mandatory evacuations were ordered.

The OFD said there was a drone flying in the area, which slowed down air attack resources trying to attack the flames. The Oceanside Police Department issued an advisory for any drone operators to cease all activity in the area.

A short time later, with the drone out of the way, helicopters were able to make water drops on the fire, stopping it from spreading toward the Pilgrim Creek community. Crews on the ground worked to surround the wildfire as well; within three hours, firefighters had a handle on it.

Firefighters estimate the fire will be completely contained by Wednesday evening. 

Crews worked throughout the night to monitor hot spots and prevent flare-ups. Thursday, crews will return to conduct additional patrols of the area and determine if more work is needed. 

The OFD said the investigation is ongoing, but one suspect was detained for questioning in connection with the fire. He is being held on an unrelated warrant, police said. 

"An arson fire appears likely," de Avila said.

Golfer Jay Miller told NBC 7 he saw a man running from the fire moments after it started. 

"We were on hole seven, I believe, and we saw a guy cut through the golf course, and about 10 minutes later, we saw a little fire start up," Miller said. "And we saw him run up the hill and then all of a sudden; the whole hillside caught on fire. He was definitely right next to the fire when it started. We saw that." 

The OFD said one firefighter suffered a minor injury from a chainsaw while battling the fire. She was taken to Tri-City Medical Center. No other casualties were reported.

Douglas Drive was closed for several hours from North River Road to Vandegrift due to the fire. All roads were reopened just before 7 p.m.

The OFD said nine fire chiefs, 14 engines, one medic unit, one air attack supervisor and two helicopters were used in the firefighting mission.

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