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Brush Fires Ravage North County for Second Straight Day

October 05, 1987|PATRICK McDONNELL | Times Staff Writer

For a second consecutive day, fires fanned by dry winds and record temperatures burned throughout North San Diego County Sunday, disrupting power and telephone service for hundreds, diverting traffic, destroying at least nine buildings and scarring thousands of acres of forest, brush and fruit trees.

The two major fires--one near Pauma Valley and Palomar Mountain and the other north of Escondido in the Valley Center area--were still burning out of control Sunday evening. Hundreds of firefighters were expected to continue battling the blazes through the night, which officials hoped would bring cooler, moister weather.

Apart from the two large fires, at least half a dozen other blazes were reported in North County. Some were quickly extinguished, while others were more stubborn.

Plumes of Black Smoke

Throughout the afternoon, plumes of black smoke filled the otherwise bright blue sky above Escondido, Vista, Valley Center and other North County communities. The whine of fire engine sirens could be heard everywhere.

The fires came on a second day of dry Santa Ana breezes that helped set record temperatures across the county. A high of 97 was recorded at Lindbergh Field on Sunday afternoon, breaking the record 94 degrees set Oct. 4, 1953.

The Palomar fire, which began Saturday afternoon near the intersection of Quail Road and Rincon Rancho Road, had burned 5,500 acres by late Sunday, destroying three homes and three other structures. Attempting to douse the fast-moving blaze were 515 firefighters from throughout Southern California, aided by 63 engines, 4 air tankers, 3 helicopters and 2 bulldozers.

The Valley Center fire, which began shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday, had burned 1,100 acres--much of it in avocado and citrus groves--near Lake Wohlford and Valley Center roads. About 200 firefighters were attacking the fire, which authorities said had destroyed three unspecified structures and threatened at least 12 others. Eight air tankers and 27 fire engines were fighting the blaze.

Spectators Flock to Area

On some major roads near the fires, such as Lake Wohlford Road, scores of spectators crowded the shoulders, watching the soaring flames and assaults by aerial tankers spraying fire retardant. To allow the passage of firefighting units, authorities periodically closed thoroughfares near the fire scenes, including portions of Valley Center Road.

Despite the severity of the fires, officials said no one was seriously injured, although several firefighters needed medical assistance for heat exhaustion. Some residents apparently have been told to be ready to evacuate and campgrounds around Palomar Mountain were shut and campers sent home as a precaution.

Although the fires were largely in isolated spots, area residents were uneasy about the prospect that the fires might quickly spread to more populated areas.

"It's extremely hot and it's steep, very inaccessible country," said Capt. Charles Smith with the California Department of Forestry, which was overseeing firefighting efforts. "Everything has to be brought in by hand."

Investigators have determined that the fire in Valley Center was arson, started by an unspecified incendiary device, Smith said. Authorities were still examining the cause of the Palomar area fire, Smith added.

Two small roadside fires along Old Castle Road, between Interstate 15 and Valley Center, were also believed to have been deliberately set, Smith said, although authorities had not ascertained if the fires were linked.

Earlier Sunday, firefighters contained a fire along Highland Valley Road in the San Pasqual Valley, between Rancho Bernardo and Escondido. The fire, which had begun early Saturday afternoon, was declared contained at 10:26 a.m. Sunday, after burning 500 acres. The cause of that blaze is under investigation. There was no report of damage to structures or injuries.

There was also a report of a fire in Baja California's Redondo Valley, about 25 miles east of downtown Tijuana and 5 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. However, information on that blaze was not immediately available.

Electricity, Telephones Out

The fires in North County have disrupted both electrical and telephone service throughout the area.

About 3,000 residences in the Valley Center area were without electricity for several hours Sunday when several utility poles burned to the ground, said Fred Vaughn, a spokesman for San Diego Gas & Electric. Service was restored before 5 p.m., Vaughn said.

Meanwhile, about 200 residences in Pauma Valley were expected to remain without electricity until today, Vaughn said. Their service was also interrupted when the fire destroyed power lines. Meanwhile, power was restored Sunday to 350 other Pauma Valley customers whose service had been interrupted, Vaughn said.

In addition, Vaughn said that power had been restored Sunday to most of the 142,000 customers affected by power outages caused by Saturday's high winds.

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