Firefighters continued Thursday to battle a wildfire that has spread over more than 4,400 acres northwest of Tecate, destroying 10 structures – including at least three homes – and injuring three people, two critically.
The blaze, dubbed the Border 32 Fire, was only about 14% contained as of late Thursday afternoon, according to Cal Fire, but some evacuees were being allowed to return home.
The fire erupted for unknown reasons about 2 p.m. Wednesday off Barrett Lake Road, near state Route 94 in the Barrett Junction area, roughly three miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
As ground and airborne crews worked to subdue the fast-moving blaze, deputies evacuated residents in the areas of Barrett Smith and Round Potrero roads, and emergency crews shut down a stretch of SR-94 between Forrest Gate Road in Campo and Otay Lakes Road in Dulzura, according to the sheriff’s officials.
The Tecate Port of Entry also was closed due to the fire, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported.
By midday Thursday, the blaze had charred an estimated 4,438 acres. The burn area was believed to have grown somewhat since then, though crews had slowed its spread considerably overnight.
“It’s a very different story today,” Cal Fire Capt. Thomas Shoots said Thursday, describing the lessened ferocity of the fire.
The blaze was still actively burning, however, and the weather – including triple-digit heat, high winds and low humidity levels – kept the danger of renewed serious flare-ups high, he said.
As of 6:30 p.m., some of the evacuated residents – those who live west of Cochera Via Drive and east of Potrero Valley Road – were being allowed to return to their homes. according to the Sheriff’s Department.
In addition to the gutted homes, the known property losses resulting from the fire were six outbuildings, including barns and sheds, along with a commercial structure and three recreational vehicles, the state agency reported.
Two men suffered severe burns early on as the conflagration spread, Shoots said. Paramedics airlifted them to UCSD Medical Center in San Diego. A firefighter sustained minor injuries and was treated at the scene before being released to continue battling the flames.
By early Wednesday evening, the blaze had grown to roughly 1,600 acres, with some 400 homes under evacuation orders. Temporary shelters for the displaced were operating at Jamul Casino and Mountain Empire High School in Pine Valley.
Those who had to get livestock out of the path of the fire were advised by the American Red Cross to take them to a county animal-services shelter in Bonita.
Some 300 firefighters were battling the flames, using about four air tankers and six helicopters, officials said.
Schools in the Mountain Empire Unified and Jamul-Dulzura Union school districts will remain closed Friday. Officials shuttered them Thursday due to the blaze, and a smoke advisory was in effect for the community of Dulzura.
Updated at 12:25 p.m., 6:15 p.m. and 7:25 p.m. Sept.1, 2022
– City News Service