A structure caught fire just south of Viejas Casino and Resort and spread to brush in Alpine Monday morning, prompting evacuations and heavy delays on the nearby freeway, according to Heartland Fire & Rescue.
The structure, located in the 1400 block of Viejas View Lane off of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians reservation, began burning at around 11 a.m., officials said.
SkyRanger 7 flew over the blaze and spotted a thin, black plume of smoke in the area. A firefighter on scene said crews were concerned the fire could spread to vegetation surrounding the structure.
Within an hour, the fire's forward rate of spread was halted at an estimated three acres, according to Cleveland National Fire Management. The plume of smoke had dissipated slightly and had turned white, an indication that crews had tempered flames.
The following day's estimate put the brush fire at just under 2 acres. A hand crew and three engines were at the scene a day later tending to any hot spots.
The fire forced San Diego County Sheriff's Department deputies to evacuate homes nearby. It wasn't clear how many people were forced out of their homes.
The California Highway Patrol temporarily closed the freeway in both directions as the fire burned two dozen feet away from Interstate 8 in between Willows Road. Drivers were being redirected to safety.
Neighbors told NBC 7 the blaze started in a storage shed while the homeowner was away. Firefighters have not confirmed the cause of the fire, but as of 3:30 p.m. firefighters did not suspect arson, according to Alpine Fire Protection District.
A large response, including a Cal Fire air tanker and crews with Heartland Fire and Rescue, Alpine Fire Department, and Cal Fire all responded to the blaze. The fire was in the jurisdiction of the Cleveland National Fire Management.
Neighbor Jack Mittman was grateful for the large response and was staying on his property to help firefighters.
He has a 10,000 gallon water tank on his property, plus additional water-dumping systems, to ensure he can easily protect his home from fires.
"Really proud of the response that were doing out here in California, so super proud of that I feel very safe up here in the mountains," he said.
On Monday, firefighters were dipping into Mittman's tank to battle the blaze at his neighbor's property. He said he knows to be prepared because his father was a firefighter for decades.
The fire erupted amid strong Santa Ana winds that sent fire crews and local authorities into high alert.
NBC 7 weathercaster Ashley Matthews said gusts at the time the fire erupted were low, but were expected to pick up by mid-afternoon. The NWS service reported wind speeds under 10 miles per hour at the time.
The strongest fire-fanning winds were expected in the foothills, mountains and deserts between Sunday and Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
No other information was available.
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