CAMP PENDLETON — A fast-moving wildfire that has blackened 760 acres at this base was 70 percent contained by Thursday afternoon, June 29, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.
The blaze produced clouds of smoke visible for miles, and the odor of burning grass wafting throughout the county. Shortly before 4 p.m. on Thursday, fire officials said they were continuing to work through the night and into Friday, June 30.
At 5 p.m. Thursday, there had been no reports of structure damage or injuries.
More than 200 firefighters from a number of agencies are battling the fire near Cristianitos Road and the San Mateo Campground, according to base officials.
Officials with the U.S. shared via Twitter, just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, that the Cristianitos fire was 10 to 15 acres.
By 8 p.m., it had swelled to 400 acres, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.
The fire is burning grass that is about 3-feet tall, said Capt. Larry Kurtz said, of the Orange County Fire Authority.
“The fire isn’t very intense, but is very fast-moving — that’s why it has consumed so many acres in such a short period of time,” he added.
Weather conditions have aided efforts to contain the blaze.
“It’s slope-driven and the fire spread is being determined by topography and not the wind”, Kurtz said. “There have been no wind issues.
“A layer came in Wednesday night, increasing the relatively humdity. We are strengthening the firefront minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour until things get resolved.”
There are no evacuation orders in place but 20 homes in San Clemente face a “minimal” threat, Kurtz said. There are plenty of fire resources on hand to protect the houses while neighborhoods in Talega and near Avenida Pico are being monitored, he added.
On Cristianitos, just off of the I-5 freeway, some drivers and bicyclists stopped to try and get a glimpse of the blaze. They saw blackened land and white smoke billowing into the sky.
Harold Smith, 59, of San Clemente was one of those bike riders.
“We don’t live very far from here, and I have been hearing about (the fire) all night in the news,” he said. “I typically ride this road … but I’ll probably cut the ride short because of the air quality.”
An occasional fire engine would speed along Cristianitos, siren and lights blaring.
Backfires have been lit around most of the fire’s parameter to assist with containment, Kurtz said. A backfire is set deliberately in the path of an oncoming fire to consume fuel, depriving the primary fire of tinder. It can stop a wildfire in its tracks or confine it, assisting in containment.
“It is basically fighting fire with fire,” Kurtz said.
Fifty fire engines, two water tenders, several helicopters, and planes loaded with fire retardant have been deployed.
Efforts to contain the fire quickly ramped up after Camp Pendelton officials reported the blaze early Wednesday evening.
At dusk on Wednesday, planes began dropping fire suppressant onto the blaze. The U.S. Forest Service said it was using its night-flying helicopter to help fight the fire.
The Cristianitos Fire may cause air quality to reach unhealthy levels Thursday in the Capistrano Valley, Saddleback Valley and along the Central Orange County Coast, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
This story is developing; check back for updates.
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