Firefighting helicopter drops  water
A Skycrane firefighting helicopter drops water on the Border 32 fire. Courtesy Cal Fire

Firefighters continued Friday to battle a wildfire that spread over more than 4,400 acres northwest of Tecate, destroying 10 structures — including three homes — and injuring three people, two critically.

The blaze, dubbed the Border 32 Fire, was about 20% contained as 7 a.m. Friday, according to Cal Fire.

It 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 the stretch of state Route 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.

Two men suffered severe burns as the fire spread, Cal Fire Capt. Thomas Shoots said. They were taken by helicopter 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.

As of early Wednesday evening, by which time the blaze had grown to roughly 1,600 acres, some 400 homes were under evacuation orders. Temporary shelters for the displaced were operating at Jamul Casino and Mountain Empire High School in Pine Valley.

As of Friday morning, the fire has consumed 4,438 acres, according to Cal Fire. An estimated 1,500 people have been evacuated and officials say efforts are being made to have some people return to their homes as soon as possible.

“Repopulation is such a big deal for us, such a big deal for the residents. We know that the moment that this smoke kind of dissipates, folks expect to go back home and so part of it’s an educational component, let folks know. We’re still working hard to do their job to make sure they come to power when they do get home. Everybody’s working hard to get them back in there,” Shoots said.

As of 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 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.

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.

“It’s a very different story today,” Shoots said shortly before midday Thursday, describing the lessened ferocity of the fire.

The blaze was still actively burning, however, and triple-digit heat, high winds and low humidity levels kept the danger of renewed serious flare-ups high, he said.

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, Cal Fire reported.

Some 300 firefighters were battling the flames, using about four air tankers and six helicopters, officials said.

Schools in the Jamul-Dulzura Union and Mountain Empire Unified school districts will be closed Friday due to the blaze, the county Office of Education advised.



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Ellen Bullock