A brush fire that sparked last week along state Route 76 near Pala Casino and quickly spread to 350 acres -- prompting brief road closures and evacuation warnings -- has been fully contained.
Cal Fire San Diego said in their final update on Sunday the blaze that sparked just before 2:30 p.m. on June 26, west of the casino and east of Interstate 15, was 93% contained. Firefighters would remain on the scene until all hot spots were put out and the blaze was fully surrounded, the agency said. According to Cal Fire's incident command page, the effort has been finalized.
The fire started amid hot, dry, summer conditions at the base of a steep slope and quickly began to run up the hillside, Cal Fire Capt. Frank LoCoco said.
SkyRanger 7 was flying above the fire as helicopters and planes dumped water and pink fire retardant over the flames. The fire burned close to an unidentified structure at the base of a hill but was climbing up the hill away from it.
Much of the early water and retardant drops were aimed along the ridge of the hill in an effort to stop the flames from burning over the top and down the other side, LoCoco added.
Luckily, small pond near the origin of the fire allowed firefighting aircraft to quickly refill their tanks
Meanwhile, the main highway, SR-76, was shut down temporarily and evacuation warnings were initiated for the surrounding community.
Temporary evacuation points for residents were set up at the I-15/SR-76 Park and Ride and Valley Center High School during the peak of the Mesa Fire.
For the small rural community of Pala, it was a feeling too familiar.
Dennis Trujillo was in Temecula, just north of San Diego County, when the fire sparked. He headed back home and soon learned it was threatening his neighborhood. The closer he got, the better look he had at the tall plume of smoke rising above the burn area.
"[We were worried about] our house, for sure, and then we have some dogs, too, and a lot of personal belongings," he said.
A relief to the community, the evacuation warnings was short-lived and lifted by late Wednesday evening. At that point, the temporary shelters also closed.
No buildings were lost and no injuries were reported.
But the work for firefighters was not over. Crews would spend the next four days -- day and night -- cutting a line around the land scorched by the fire. Firefighters continued to douse the area with water and monitored hot spots for any flare-ups.
The Trujillos and other residents of San Diego County's rural area know the threat of wildfires never really goes away.
"We're still in a drought, so that's a big concern because being that Pala is such a small community and we're in the valley, it's scary," Trujillo said. "It almost seems like we can get trapped."
The wildfires are amplified this year due to the state's drought.
"“We’ve actually seen more activity than we did last year…and being that last year was a pretty catastrophic fire season, burning over 4 million acres statewide, obviously that’s got us concerned," LoCoco told NBC 7 in May.
Cal Fire said as of May 5, the state had already seen seven times the number of acres consumed compared to the sae
Cal Fire investigators are working to determine the cause of the Mesa Fire.
Sign up for our Breaking newsletter to get the most urgent news stories in your inbox.