Investigations into San Diego fires under way

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Investigations were under way Monday into a rash of major fires that destroyed dozens of homes and businesses last week as they raged over tens of thousands of acres throughout the San Diego area.

The blazes, which erupted amid powerful Santa Ana winds, triple-digit temperatures and extremely dry ground cover, began around 11am Tuesday when the Bernardo Fire began off Nighthawk Lane, southwest of Rancho Bernardo. It scorched about 1,550 acres before being declared fully contained Sunday night.

According to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, the Bernardo Fire was sparked by accident by a backhoe operator working at a housing construction project near Del Norte High School. No structures were lost, but a few minor injuries reported, mostly heat-related, city officials said.

The next major fire to break out was the Tomahawk Fire near Naval Weapon Station Fallbrook around 9:45am Wednesday, followed about an hour later by the Poinsettia Fire just south McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad.

The Tomahawk Fire, which would turn out to be the first of several blazes at Camp Pendleton last week, spread onto the eastern side of the sprawling Marine Corps installation and was 100% contained Sunday night after blackening an estimated 5,400 acres, according to base officials.

The Poinsettia Fire was stopped at 600 acres and was fully contained late Saturday afternoon. It destroyed or significantly damaged eight single-family homes, two multi-family apartment buildings, two commercial buildings and one trailer were destroyed or significantly damaged. Also, three single-family homes sustained minor damage.

Authorities are looking in whether the Poinsettia Fire killed a transient. Crews checking for hot spots in a location known to have been used as a transient encampment in the vicinity of Ambrosia Lane and Calliandra Road discovered a badly burned body Thursday afternoon. The victim’s identity and cause of death remain under investigation.

Also among the major blazes last week was the Highway Fire, which broke out around noon Wednesday near State Route 76 and Old Highway 395 in the Deer Springs area of northeastern San Diego County. It burned 441 acres before being fully contained Saturday. No one was hurt and no structures lost in the conflagration, which cost an estimated $1.1 million to extinguish, according to Cal Fire.

Around 3:45pm Wednesday, the firestorm grew to include what would become known as the Cocos Fire. The nearly 2,000-acre blaze destroyed about three dozen structures south of SR-78 in the San Marcos area and cost more than $4.2 million to fight, according to Cal Fire.

The non-injury Cocos Fire was about 90% contained as of this afternoon, the state agency reported.

In addition to the Tomahawk Fire, Camp Pendleton crews battled three other significant fires last week. Together, they scorched 21,900 acres on base and at Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook – roughly 18% of the land on the North County military base.

The largest one, the Las Pulgas Fire, burned about 15,000 acres after erupting for unknown reasons at about 3pm Thursday near a sewage plant in Camp Las Pulgas. The blaze was 75% contained as of late Monday, Marine Corps officials said.

The third major Camp Pendleton blaze, dubbed the San Mateo Fire, began spreading just before 11:30am Friday near Basilone Road. It had grown to about 1,500 acres by Sunday and was 97% contained Monday, according to base officials. No structural losses or injuries were reported.

Along with the major local fires that broke out last week, several smaller ones also kept firefighters busy. Additionally, the blazes and high winds damaged power lines and related equipment, leading to widespread outages. At the height of the emergency, about 6,500 homes and businesses across the county were without electrical service.

Repair crews had service restored to all the affected addresses by Sunday, according to San Diego Gas & Electric.

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