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Firefighters Battle Four East County Brush Fires

Firefighters use helicopter water drops to put out a brush fire near Alpine on May 3, 2014.
Wende Cornelius / U.S. Forest Service
Firefighters use helicopter water drops to put out a brush fire near Alpine on May 3, 2014.

Two firefighters were injured Saturday while working to extinguish a string of brush fires along Interstate 8 between Alpine and Pine Valley, which may have been sparked by a vehicle's faulty catalytic converter.

One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion and the other for a possible fractured ankle, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Wende Cornelius said.

The fires were in the Cleveland National Forest east of Willows Road, west of Alpine, and the largest was holding at about 16 acres. Three others were quickly contained.

The largest fire was fully contained by 7 p.m., Cornelius said.

Callers began reporting the fires to the California Highway Patrol around 10:15 a.m., with one initially described as about the size of a vehicle. Smoke also was visible from the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on eastbound Interstate 8 about three miles east of Pine Valley, according to the CHP.

Minutes later, a second fire was reported about two miles to the east of the first, and then a third fire was spotted east of the checkpoint. A fourth fire also broke out in the area.

CHP officials said that an overheated catalytic converter on an unknown vehicle may have caused the fires.

Cal Fire crews assisted Forest Service firefighters to get the upper hand on a fire along the freeway, north of the Pine Valley viewpoint, according to Cal Fire.

Despite the steep, treacherous terrain, firefighters stopped the fast-moving flames before any homes were threatened.

"The last few days we had extreme Santa Ana conditions, and if the fire would've started under those conditions we'd probably be in a different situation right now," Forest Service Battalion Chief Rick Marinelli said.

Firefighters and the CHP blocked one westbound lane on Interstate 8 near Willows Road as they fought the fires, according to the CHP.

Eric Svenson watched from his backyard across the highway from the fires as crews battled the blazes.

"It's an exciting season is what's going through my mind. … Here we go again," Svenson told 10News.

In 2001, the Viejas fire destroyed his barn and garage and killed his horse. Then, in 2003, the Cedar fire came close.

"The Cedar fire burned from the west to the east. … It burned that whole mountain, then that whole mountain … all burned at once," Svenson said.

Saturday's fires come after a week of hot, dry winds made fighting several other small brush fires in San Diego County challenging.