Several brush fires sparked near westbound Interstate 8 Friday afternoon in the East County.
The fires began just before 1 p.m. near the Grossmont Center off-ramp on westbound I-8.
CHP officials said a 37-year-old man from Santee pulled his vehicle over on I-8 under the SR-125 freeway underpass because his car was smoking and had partially caught on fire. A passerby had a fire extinguisher in his car and began to help.
The vehicle fire caused multiple small spot fires along brush near the highway, officials said.
Sonny Saghera of Heartland Fire & Rescue said the root of the vehicle fire was a malfunctioning catalytic converter. That spawned four small brush fires approximately 100 yards from one another, Saghera said.
Heavy smoke filled the air near I-8 as firefighters rushed to the scene. Flames could be seen stemming from the brush near the roadway by the Severin Drive and Fuerte Road exit.
Police provided traffic control on the freeway as crews worked to extinguish the fires. CHP officials issued a SigAlert at 1:35 p.m. Lanes were shut down for 30 minutes for the safety of drivers, as the winds made conditions smoky in the area.
Trolley service in the area was also briefly shut down for about 30 minutes.
Officials said the westbound I-8 fires sparked in spots from West Main Street in El Cajon to Severin Drive in La Mesa.
Grossmont High School, which is located nearby, was evacuated as a precaution, school officials confirmed. Students were taken to Harry Griffen Park.
Heartland Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Ted Kakuris said all of the small fires combined burned less than one acre. Within two hours, firefighters from La Mesa and El Cajon assisted by Cal Fire and Santee crews had the blazes completely contained and mopped up.
Kakuris the car that caught fire on westbound I-8 had spewed sparks and chunks of flames toward surrounding brush. Kakuris said there simply wasn’t enough moisture in the brush for it not to ignite.
CHP officials interviewed the driver of the car that caught on fire at the scene. Officials said no one was injured in the fires.
Saghera said a structure on Murray Drive was briefly threatened by the fires, but fire crews "aggressively attacked the flames to keep them along the freeway’s shoulder."