What to Know
- As of 5p.m Saturday, Cal Fire officials said the Creek Fire had burned 4, 276 acres and was 90% contained; the fire sparked Wednesday near De Luz and Sandia Creek roads and by Thursday morning was burning entirely on Camp Pendleton
- At one time, 7,000 residents were under evacuation orders in Fallbrook. Now, all residents are being allowed to return home.
- The American Red Cross Temporary Evacuation Point (TEP) at Fallbrook High School has transitioned to a virtual TEP
A fast-moving brush fire burning amid a red flag warning has scorched more than 4,200 acres in San Diego's North County, even prompting evacuations for more than 7,000 residents.
Cal Fire officials said Saturday that the fire was 90% contained while the acreage remained the same.
As of 6 p.m. Friday, Cal Fire officials said the fire had scorched 4,276 acres and remained 65% contained.
By 5:45 p.m. Thursday, all the affected residents of Fallbrook and Camp Pendleton were told they were safe to return home.
Thursday morning, Camp Pendleton Division Chief Ryan Cushing said the Creek Fire was fueled by wind and steep terrain that proved difficult to access.
Cushing said the Camp Pendleton Fire Department was working with Cal Fire San Diego and the U.S. Forest Service to get the upper-hand on the blaze.
“Firefighters are working diligently to construct containment lines along the flanks in the head of the fire,” Cushing said in a video update posted on Twitter. "Currently, the fire sits at 0% containment.”
At about 4:20 a.m. Thursday, Cal Fire Capt. Thomas Shoots said the Creek Fire was burning at a moderate rate of spread in Fallbrook and on Camp Pendleton.
An hour later, he told NBC 7 News Today the Creek Fire was still active but was entirely on Camp Pendleton -- burning away from the population.
"The fire is completely contained to Camp Pendleton," he explained. "It's right along the perimeter, along De Luz Road."
Shoots said Cal Fire was working hand-in-hand with the North County Fire Protection District to get a handle on the blaze.
Evacuation orders for Fallbrook were lifted by mid-afternoon on Thursday, and by 6 p.m., all Camp Pendleton residents were told that they, too, could safely return home.
Shoots said the area where the Creek Fire is burning is vast, and that’s a big concern for firefighters because there’s still a lot of area left to burn.
"We have a lot of populated areas both on and off base, so we're still very concerned," he said.
Officials were using aircraft to map the fire and keep a close eye on its path. Shoots said water drops began at sunrise.
As of 5 a.m., nearly 200 firefighters were battling the Creek Fire. So far, there had been no reports of injuries or damage to homes.
Creek Fire Evacuation Orders and Road Closures
By 3 a.m. Thursday, Cal Fire had issued mandatory evacuation orders for more than 7,000 residents in west Fallbrook and Camp Pendleton. Evacuation orders for Fallbrook were lifted by mid-afternoon on Thursday, and by 6 p.m., all Camp Pendleton residents were told that they, too, could safely return home.
A map of the evacuations for the Creek Fire can be seen on the County of San Diego's emergency website. The map does not include the areas of Camp Pendleton subject to evacuation, nor are those evacuees included in the 7,000+ figure.
Also by mid-afternoon on Thursday, a temporary shelter set up at Fallbrook High School had been closed and converted into a virtual temporary evacuation point.
Camp Pendleton just after 3:30 a.m. issued a mandatory evacuation warning for these areas: DeLuz Housing; Wounded Warrior Battalion; Lake O'Neill Campground.
“Affected personnel are to relocate to Paige Fieldhouse,” the tweet from Camp Pendleton added.
As the fire sparked and quickly grew, officials shut down traffic on De Luz Road at Sandia Creek Road.
The Creek Fire and the Red Flag Warning
The Creek Fire sparked in the middle of a red flag warning that had created dangerous fire-prone conditions for San Diego County’s mountains and valleys.
The red flag warning was in effect until 12 p.m. Thursday, with east to northeast winds between 15-25 mph, with gusts up to 45 mph. The National Weather Service said isolated gusts of 55 to 65 mph were possible in the San Diego County mountains and adjacent valleys.
Humidity was also low, between 6% and 12%.
The National Weather Service told NBC 7 that at 1 a.m., the zone around the fire was experiencing single-digit humidity and wind gusts of approximately 35 mph.
NBC 7 Meteorologist Sheena Parveen said at 4:30 a.m. Thursday that the Santa Ana winds in this red flag warning were at their highest peak.
“That really gives us a high fire threat when combined with low humidity,” Parveen explained.
Humidity in Fallbrook was at 9%, she added.
Parveen said the winds were expected to lighten up over the next several hours.
"The conditions are improving," she said just after 9 a.m.
This red flag warning this week came with emergency power shutoffs in several communities. SDG&E had warned 31,000 inland valley and mountain residents earlier this week about the possibility of those shutoffs.
SDG&E is keeping track of those safety outages on this map. The outage figures can change quickly, so it's best to keep tabs on that map for the latest updates on power shutoffs.
'An Orange Glow'
Fallbrook resident Eric Barajas lives near the fire zone and said he was relieved when he saw the Creek Fire moving away from his neighborhood.
“I feel safe because, you know, it burned away from us and if it burned away it can’t burn back through what it already burned, so I feel kind of safe,” Barajas told NBC 7. “Unless it, like, doubles back around that way then it would be a different story.”
Barajas said he was awake when the fire sparked. He spotted an orange glow outside his window and knew exactly what that meant.
“I was just like, ‘Alright, let me go look,’” Barajas said. “I’ve been just looking at it ever since, taking pictures, keeping people updated.”
Barajas told NBC 7 this isn’t the first time his family has been close to a fire.
In 2007, his family was evacuated during the Rice Fire.
“That’s when all of Fallbrook got evacuated,” Barajas recalled. “We went through Camp Pendleton.”
Barajas said his family has an emergency pack ready to go in case of fire evacuations.
“It’s like photos, marriage certificates, birth certificates – kind of the only things that are valuable,” he explained. “The TVs – everything else is basically replaceable. But, you know, those old school photos are the most important things for us. So that’s what we put in a briefcase and it’s just kind of ready to go, if we have to go.”
Fellow Fallbrook resident John Mendoza has lived in the community for three-and-a-half years. He was under evacuation orders during the Creek Fire, as his home faces the fire line.
Mendoza also described the hazy glow from the fire in the sky.
“When I looked out this morning around 6 a.m. and saw the whole ridge glowing orange and looking off to the northeast and it was actually orange too, I was like, ‘Aw, man,’” he said.
“So, that’s when I started deciding, ‘What do I need to pack and how fast can I pack it?’ Mendoza added. "Because it was completely unexpected."
Ultimately, he chose to stay home because he felt like fire crews had a solid handle on the blaze. Mendoza said his girlfriend and young children did evacuate, though, just in case.
"They're the priority," Mendoza told NBC 7. "I'm not going to have them here because if it does take off, then me and my [older] son and I can load up what we need and get out of here. But, from the looks of it, I don't see that happening."