A fast-moving brush fire raced across 100 acres of heavy, dry North County brush Friday evening and for a time seem poised to move into a populated rural area north of San Marcos.
By late Friday, 250 firefighters had kept the fire from directly threatening any homes but authorities feared that strong, dry northeasterly winds would push the total acreage burned to at least 200 acres by dawn today.
An information officer for the California Department of Forestry said the fire was moving into open country west and northwest of Interstate 15 and north of Deer Springs Road.
"We expect to still be fighting it in the morning," information officer Rob Bruggema said Friday night. "We've got winds gusting to 20 miles an hour or more, and we've got only 11% humidity.
"The area has very, very heavy fuel--about 20-foot-high brush, big thick brush."
National Weather Service meteorologist Jesse Lee said that strong winds would blow throughout Friday night but were predicted to taper off this morning. A wind advisory for inland county travel was in effect Friday night.
Earlier in the evening, the fire bumped up against Deer Springs Road, just north of the San Marcos city limits. But Bruggema said that firefighters kept it from moving into an area interspersed with large single-family homes and avocado and fruit orchards. Neither the CDF nor the San Diego County Sheriff's office had ordered evacuations, although sheriff's deputies were controlling traffic along Deer Springs Road between Interstate 15 and Twin Oaks Valley Road in San Marcos.
Bruggema said that there were 35 engine companies from a half-dozen fire agencies as well as eight hand crews from the California Conservation Corps.
The fire started about 4:30 p.m. apparently from sparks blown into the brush from a car fire along the southbound lanes of Interstate 15, Bruggema said. The freeway remained open Friday night except for the right lane in the southbound direction, a California Highway Patrol spokeswoman said.
But area residents were clearly alarmed as they watched the fire cackle through the brush, and San Diego-bound drivers along Interstate 15 could see pale orange flames against the night sky as far north as Rainbow, near the Riverside County line.
"It's sad," said Carol Helsel, 54, of San Marcos. "I've lived here all my life and I've seen two other times this mountain burned. It takes a long time for things to grow back."