A large brush fire that broke out in De Luz late Wednesday, Dec. 23 night spread into Camp Pendleton and triggered mandatory evacuations in Fallbrook early Thursday morning. The fire’s size has been expanded to 3,050 acres with 0% containment on Thursday morning.
Homes along much of the northwestern corner of Fallbrook were evacuated, as the blaze extended into Camp Pendleton and threatened to affect populated areas should the winds shift, according to North County Fire Capt. John Choi.
For now, no homes in Fallbrook have been damaged. As of Thursday morning, Choi said the damage assessment teams haven’t been out to survey any possible damage and that the focus was on suppressing the fire.
“The winds are favorable to us in the sense that (the fire) is not pushing into us, although it’s not favorable to Camp Pendleton,” Choi said Wednesday night.
But the fire is burning along the eastern side of Camp Pendleton, Choi said, and changing winds would cause the fire to immediately impact Fallbrook.
“We had a lull this morning,” Choi said Thursday morning. “We went from a critical rate of spread where we were dealing with 20-30 mile per hour winds. Critical rate is the fastest you can have, but in that lull, the fire changed to a moderate rate of spread. That is good, but winds are scheduled to pick up again today.”
Evacuation orders at first only affected homes on the edge of Fallbrook and De Luz but were expanded by about 2:30 a.m. to include areas north of the Fallbrook Airpark along South Mission Road, including part of downtown Fallbrook. Other parts of Fallbrook along South Mission Road were under an evacuation warning.
“The fire is butting right up against Camp Pendleton and Fallbrook, if those winds should shift any time in the next 24 hours we could have a real problem,” Choi said, explaining that there isn’t enough of a buffer between where the fire is and residential neighborhoods in Fallbrook. “Right now it’s good for our community by bad for Pendleton.”
Cal Fire San Diego estimated about 7,000 Fallbrook residents were under evacuation orders. An evacuation center was being set up at Fallbrook High School, 2400 S. Stage Coach Lane.
Housing on Camp Pendleton was also under evacuation orders – base officials said on Twitter that DeLuz Housing, Wounded Warrior Battalion, and Lake O’Neill Campground areas were all under mandatory evacuation. Affected personnel were told to relocate to Paige Fieldhouse.
The fire first broke out around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, when the North County Fire Protection District tweeted that crews were at the scene of a vegetation fire near De Luz Road west of Sandia Creek Drive.
North County Fire initially estimated the blaze to be as large as 300 acres, but Cal Fire San Diego tweeted at about 11:50 p.m. that its units were also responding to the fire and were estimating its size at 50 acres. By about 2:30 a.m., North County Fire tweeted the fire had indeed expanded to 300 acres. As of 4:20 a.m., Cal Fire San Diego said the blaze was at 500 acres and 0% contained.
At 7 a.m. Thursday morning, Camp Pendleton updated that the fire had expanded to 3,050 acres with 0% containment with evacuations remaining in place and a significant amount of air assets inbound to continue to battle the blaze.
The blaze was being handled by firefighters from North County Fire, U.S. Forest Service, Camp Pendleton, and Cal Fire San Diego.
The Fallbrook Gate at the entrance to Camp Pendleton and the Naval Weapons Station is closed and traffic is being diverted. A road closure was in effect on De Luz Road at Sandia Creek, Cal Fire said.
The San Diego County Air Pollution Control District issued a smoke advisory for residents near Fallbrook and Camp Pendleton.
The agency warned that smoke will likely impact the area throughout the day and residents should assume the air quality levels are unhealthy for all people. Residents were advised to remain indoors, if possible, and limit physical activities in areas that smell like smoke.
Jeff Pack and City News Service contributed to this report.