A brush fire that exploded to 350 acres along State Route 76 near Pala Casino in San Diego County Wednesday -- prompting brief road closures and evacuation warnings -- is now 40% contained.
Cal Fire San Diego tweeted an update at 7:35 a.m. Thursday saying crews had "made great progress overnight," and had reached 10% containment. Just after 6 p.m., the agency said firefighters had kept the blaze from growing on their way to reaching 40% containment.
As of 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, Cal Fire San Diego said all evacuation warnings tied to the Mesa Fire had been lifted and SR-76 was open to traffic again.
The Mesa Fire sparked just before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, west of the casino and east of Interstate 15 amid hot, dry, summer conditions.
By 6:45 p.m., Cal Fire said it had grown to 350 acres.
As of late Wednesday night, it was 0% contained but officials said it had a slow rate of spread. Crews would stay in the fire zone overnight to make sure the Mesa Fire didn't spread further.
"It started at the base of a very steep slope and ran up that slope relatively quickly, so we are trying to get a good stop at the ridge to keep it from spreading further," Cal Fire Capt. Frank Lococo said.
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. When the evacuation warnings and road closures were lifted, the temporary shelters closed.
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.
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. It almost seems like we can get trapped," Trujillo said.
Cal Fire investigators are working to determine the cause of the Mesa Fire.
A smoke advisory was issued in the area, and residents who can smell smoke are advised to limit physical/outdoor activity and assume air quality levels are unhealthy, especially those residents with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children. Details here.
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 as of 3:20 p.m.
Much of the 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 said.
A small pond near the origin of the fire allowed firefighting aircraft to quickly refill their tanks after making water dumps over the flames.
No injuries were reported and no buildings or homes were burned.
NBC 7 meteorologist Dagmar Midcap said a slightly saturated atmosphere helped crews in their fight against the Mesa Fire, and said dry fuels may have been dampened by light morning rain.
No other information was available.
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