A drenching rainstorm moved into San Diego County on Sunday, causing a flurry of traffic accidents--one fatal--and bringing both relief and new headaches for firefighters atop Palomar Mountain.
The Palomar blaze was officially declared contained at 6 p.m. Sunday--with credit given to the rain--and officials began mapping plans to send most of the 1,799 firefighters home, said Charlie Crail, an information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.
Crail said the 16,000-acre fire will probably be controlled by Oct. 20, after all the spot fires within the burn area are extinguished.
Rain Triggers Mud Slides
But the California Highway Patrol and public works crews began turning their attention to mud slides, especially along County Highway S-6 which leads to the mountaintop from Pauma Valley.
The hillsides, now stripped of valuable foliage, posed a threat of slipping because of the very rainfall that helped contain the fire, officials said.
The showers are expected to continue through Tuesday morning as the remnants of tropical storm Ramon move through the area, said meteorologist Janice Roth of WeatherData, which provides weather information to The Times.
The storm, bringing showers and occasional thunderstorms, could leave up to two inches of rain along San Diego County's coast, and up to three inches on the mountain slopes, before moving on Tuesday, according to Roth.
Flash Flood Watch
A flash flood watch was issued by the National Weather Service at 10 a.m. Sunday for the Southern California mountain areas, with the possibility of flooding continuing through at least today.
The rainfall at Lindbergh Field for the 24-hour period ending at 4 p.m. Sunday was .30 of an inch. The rain flooded intersections and sent police scampering from one fender bender to the next.
"We're just going berserk in here," said a harried CHP spokeswoman. "We've had lots of reports (of traffic accidents) but have been too busy to tally up the numbers."
The worst accident of the day was a one-car smashup on Mission Gorge Road in San Diego that left the driver dead.
According to San Diego Police Sgt. Anne O'Dell, a motorist was driving east on Mission Gorge Road, "weaving in and out of traffic in pouring rain," when he lost control of his car and smashed into a telephone pole near Old Cliffs Road.
Witnesses told police the car was traveling more than 85 m.p.h.
Raymond Charles Houston, 22, of San Diego died after his car wrapped around the pole, splitting it virtually in half and leaving the front and back ends of the car parallel to each other, according to O'Dell.
Trees Down, Streets Closed
As of Sunday evening, parts of three streets were closed--Camino de la Reina under California 163, low-lying parts of Imperial Avenue, and the dirt road that connects Hollister Street and Dairy Mart Road in South San Diego, according to San Diego Police Lt. Connie VanPutten.
"We've had the usual trees down and some very minor flooding in Spring Valley, but no serious calls requiring additional resources," said Donna Adams, spokeswoman for the San Diego County Office of Disaster Preparedness.
The rain also loosened soil, causing a large tree on Streamview Drive in East San Diego to fall, smashing several cars and taking out a small power line.
David Kusumota, a spokesman for San Diego Gas & Electric Co., said there were numerous isolated power outages because of wet equipment.
Power, Cable TV Outages
The most serious power problem left 2,000 to 3,000 customers in the Pala area of North County without power because of a circuit problem that was believed to be rain-related, he said.
Cox Cable spokeswoman Lois Sargent said there were weather-related outages to television cable service in parts of La Mesa, Santee, El Cajon and East San Diego, but "it was impossible" to determine how many customers were affected.
Firefighters at Palomar Mountain, who already had cut a 24-mile line around most of the fire with bulldozers and by hand, had planned to finish encircling the blaze by digging another 10 miles of lines over the coming week, Crail said.
But the rain made the issue moot, he said.
"It saved the taxpayers a lot of money," Crail said of the rain, which began falling before daybreak Sunday and had dropped an inch of rain on the mountain by dusk.
"It was definitely a blessing," he said. "We can start cutting guys out of here as soon as we line up the transportation."
By early afternoon, 400 firefighters already had been sent home.
SAN DIEGO RAINFALL
Precipitation for San Diego County for the 24 hours ending at 4 p.m. Sunday. Figures, listed in inches, provided by the National Weather Service. Lindbergh Field . . . 0.30 Borrego Springs. . . 0.10 Chula Vista . . . 0.44 Campo . . . 0.61 Del Mar . . . 0.53 El Cajon . . . 0.30 Escondido . . . 0.55 Fallbrook . . . 0.77 Julian . . . TRACE La Mesa . . . 0.40 Mount Laguna . . . 0.80 Oceanside . . . 0.35 Poway . . . 0.35 Santee . . . 0.34 SDSU . . . 0.31
Total rainfall this month . . . 0.30 Total rainfall since July 1 . . . 1.03 Total for this date last year . . . 2.44 Normal rainfall to this date . . . 0.36