Cal Fire crew
A Cal Fire crew at the fire in Barrett Junction. Courtesy Cal Fire

Hundreds of back-country residents displaced by a wildfire that spread over 4,438 acres northwest of Tecate were able to return to their homes, Cal Fire San Diego said Saturday.

The full repopulation of rural areas in the Dulzura and Potrero communities of southern San Diego County began at 1:45 p.m. Friday, as firefighters continued to douse hot spots in the smoldering burn zone of the Border 32 Fire.

As of Friday afternoon, no active flames remained in the sooty footprint of the conflagration, which destroyed three houses and injured six people.

By Saturday morning, the blaze was 65% contained, the state agency reported. The perimeters of the fire had not expanded since Thursday, when its size was estimated at 4,438 acres.

The blaze erupted for unknown reasons around 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 air crews worked to subdue the fast-moving flames, deputies evacuated residents in the areas of Barrett Smith and Round Potrero roads, and emergency crews shut down a stretch of state Route 94 between Forrest Gate Road in Campo and Otay Lakes Road in Dulzura, according to the sheriff’s officials.

Tecate Port of Entry also was closed due to the fire, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported. The facility was scheduled to reopen Saturday.

Schools in the Jamul-Dulzura Union and Mountain Empire Unified school districts also were shuttered Thursday and Friday.

Two men suffered severe burns as the fire spread, Cal Fire Capt. Thomas Shoots said. They were taken by helicopter to UC San Diego Medical Center. Four firefighters also sustained injuries — all believed to be minor — while battling the flames, Shoots said.

At the height of the blaze, some 300 crew members were fighting the flames by ground and aboard air tankers and water-dropping helicopters, officials said.

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 roughly 1,500 displaced people were operating at Jamul Casino and Mountain Empire High School in Pine Valley.

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.

By 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.

In addition to the gutted houses in the Barrett Junction area, 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.

— City News Service



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Ellen Bullock