‘Like Driving Into Hell’: Residents Describe Evacuating Lilac Fire

Deputies drove through neighborhoods announcing over a loudspeaker, “Mandatory evacuations, mandatory evacuations."

It happened in what felt like seconds.

A North County resident got a call from a friend late Thursday morning telling him the Lilac Fire had ignited near his home, near the intersection of Interstate 15 and state Route 76 near Fallbrook.

He got home just in the nick of time.

“We got here, and — you know, everything happens really fast,” the evacuee told NBC 7. “Next thing you know there sheriff’s [deputies] are knocking on your door, like, 'Hey, you gotta go.'"

He grabbed a head lamp and a few other items before taking off.

Homeowner Jerry Vasquez was allowed to access his property just before the neighborhood was placed under a mandatory evacuation Thursday afternoon.

Law enforcement drove through neighborhoods announcing over a loudspeaker, “Mandatory evacuations, mandatory evacuations."

He grabbed important documents and his pet cat and took off. On his way out, he noticed three or four homes on a nearby hillside on fire.

Vasquez has lived in Bonsall for decades. He's never seen his neighborhood in this light.

“It's almost like driving into hell,” Vasquez said. "It looked very eerie, very dark and overcast.”

Vasquez admits he was ill-prepared for Thursday's explosive Lilac Fire. He didn’t have anything boxed up and he didn’t have an emergency kit at the ready.

Having to leave his home behind was painful.

“It's very stressful, Vasquez said. “I mean, it's like you don't know if you're going to have a home to come home to anymore."

Officials said 20 structures were destroyed and several others were damaged Thursday, in a blaze that showed no signs of slowing.

Areal footage of a neighborhood near Fallbrook Thursday showed at least a dozen mobile homes scorched to the ground.

Firefighters were opening the gates to residents’ homes in order to free trapped livestock and other large animals. Horses, in a panic and trying to flee the flames, could be seen running in circles. Some of the animals did not make it out alive.

Fallbrook High School learned of the fire when smoke began to rise in the skies near their campus.

"It was pretty wild; we saw the smoke clouds, everyone was a little frazzled," A tutor with the school told NBC 7. "Students were all worried about their homes and their families."

The high school ended classes about an hour early Thursday so the campus could be used as a temporary evacuation center for victims of the fire. The school will be closed Friday as well.

A fire official told NBC 7 Thursday, in his 24-year career, he had never seen a fire move that quickly.

The fire started just after 10:30 a.m. as a 7 to 10 acre on the west side of I-15 and quickly spread west, prompting an evacuation at the Rancho Monserate Country Club in Bonsall. Within a few hours, the fire was reported to be 500 acres.

By Thursday evening, the fire had scorched 3,000 acres and had prompted an emergency declaration from California Gov. Jerry Brown.

As a woman was evacuating Thursday, she stopped and pointed back at her neighborhood, saying what was on most people’s minds: “I hope that I can see this stuff when I get back."

As of Friday, the Lilac Fire had grown to 4,100 acres.

Contact Us