The Palomar Mountain fire was 68% contained by Saturday night, burning only 100 additional acres during the day in the face of backfires along its northern front.
Still, there was no estimate by officials when the 8-day-old fire would be fully contained and extinguished, said fire information officer Audrey Hagen of the California Department of Forestry.
She said one fire official told her that by looking directly west from the Palomar Observatory atop the mountain, where a new command post was established Saturday, "he could see 12 miles of flames."
She said 1,799 firefighters remained on the lines Saturday night--battling the fire with hoses, shovels, bulldozers--and intentionally set backfires intended to burn the fuel ahead of the fire so the blaze would burn itself out.
By Saturday night, the fire had burned 15,900 acres. She said that officials on the fire line were disappointed they were only able to successfully set about a third of the backfires they had planned and that they would continue setting backfires today.
Still, they were buoyed by a rise in humidity and a slight drop in temperatures, she said.
The blaze was believed to have been sparked by a supposedly controlled burn the previous Saturday in an avocado grove in Pauma Valley, on the southwestern base of the mountain, which was believed extinguished. But forestry officials believe the fire was rekindled by dry, hot Santa Ana winds later that day. Three homes had burned to the ground by midnight.
Authorities say they are considering suing the property owner to help recover some of the cost of the firefighting effort, estimated Saturday at $1.8 million.
County Road Closed
She said that county highway S6 was closed to all traffic because of falling rocks and other road hazards and that S7 remained open only to mountain residents and emergency traffic.