A man and a woman have been detained in connection with the 10-acre vegetation fire that forced evacuations and a major traffic jam Friday afternoon, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
The fast-moving vegetation fire — dubbed the Mercado Fire — started near Via Mercado and Jamacha Boulevard in the Rancho San Diego area at about 3:40 p.m. Just after it began, a 29-year-old woman and a 54-year-old man were seen coming from a transient camp in the burn area.
Rancho San Diego Fire Prompts Evacuations
Deputies stopped the two and have detained them for questioning, though no charges have been filed.
As the fire spread toward homes on the hillside, residents on Via Linda Vista Road, Del Rio Road, Via Mercado and Via Timoteo were asked to leave, and the assistant director of the Rancho San Diego KinderCare said they got everyone out of their facility.
One of the residents, Joel, said he was at work when he got his brother-in-law's call, telling him the fire was dangerously close to his house.
"I hear that they were going to start evacuating and I better come here and get my pets and my personal belongings," he said. "The fire was coming up my hill."
Joel watched as firefighters beat back the flames and stopped them yards from his fence.
"This is crazy. This is nuts. This is so bad," Joel said. "I'm glad the fire department's here and I'm glad they're doing a great job right now because I want to protect my house and I want my neighbors to protect their houses."
He said he has lived in that house for 12 years, and a fire has never come that close.
Joel decided not to go to the temporary evacuation center, which was set up at Monte Vista High School. All residents were able to return to their homes by 7:30 p.m., and by 10:20 p.m., the fire was 100 percent contained.
The fire sparked about 100 yards from State Route 94. The California Highway Patrol shut down eastbound lanes of the freeway between Avocado Boulevard and Campo Road to make way for fire crews, prompting a Sig Alert at about 4 p.m. All but one lane were reopened at 6:30 p.m.
Multiple roads in the area were also closed, making it hard for Aziz Goryoka to get home.
His home of 35 years, which he shares with his children and elderly parents, was put on voluntary evacuation.
"For me, job #1 is taking care of my family, making sure that they're going to be safe. And so that's why I rushed to quickly come," Goryoka told NBC 7.
He said he had to park about two miles away and walk to his home because so many roads were blocked off. Finally, he was able to reach the home. His family was waiting for him outside – safe.
Just like Joel, he had never seen a fire threaten his home like that. Over the years, he has watched other San Diegans go through devastating fire seasons, and he wondered when it would be their turn.
"To see it happen next door, now we're being affected," he said. "You never think this is going to happen to you, but how close it is and how surreal it can be and how dangerous and how more devastating it could have turned out. Thankfully it hasn't turned that way."
Fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters worked throughout the afternoon to drop many rounds of fire retardant and water to stop the flames.
The fire has also reached the San Diego Gas and Electric's Jamacha substation. According to an SDG&E spokeswoman, fire crews stayed at the scene, and they have not identified any damage. No outages have been reported.
The sheriff’s department says the cause of the fire is still under investigation.