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Nearly 1,600-Acre Bernardo Fire 50 Percent Contained

Photo caption: A fire official updates a map of the Bernardo Fire, May 14, 2014.

Photo by Susan Murphy

A fire official updates a map of the Bernardo Fire, May 14, 2014.

At least 350 firefighters Wednesday morning were on the front lines of a nearly 1,600-acre brush fire smoldering southwest of Rancho Bernardo. City and county fire crews overcame 12 flare ups as they wrangled the so-called Bernardo fire through the night Tuesday, but there were no flames the next morning.

The North County blaze was 50 percent contained as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, according to the San Diego Fire Department. Air support and several ground crews were released to help with other fires in the area.

However, Cal Fire's Ray Chaney said crews were on high alert as winds picked up and temperatures were expected to near triple digits.

“Weather conditions right now give us grave concern," he said at a morning press conference.

The area is under a red flag warning through Thursday due to the hot, windy conditions and low humidity. Peak gusts of up to 40 mph were expected between 9 and 10 a.m., and a high wind warning for the mountains and valleys was in effect through 4 p.m. Isolated gusts of 75 to 85 mph were also possible on wind-prone mountain slopes, according to the National Weather Service.

Chaney said emergency crews came from as far away as central California and Los Angeles and Orange counties to aid local responders in battling the blaze. Two firefighters suffered injuries. One was heat-related while the other was due to smoke inhalation.

Officials said smoke will be visible in the air but asked the public to use 911 sparingly and only call to report a new fire or if lives or properties are in danger. San Diego Police Department Chief Shelley Zimmerman urged residents to sign up for AlertSanDiego to be informed of any evacuation orders.

The so-called Bernardo Fire broke out near Del Norte High School about 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, San Diego fire officials said.

Cal Fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser said more than 5,200 homes and businesses were ordered to evacuate in the early hours of the fire, but all evacuation orders were lifted several hours later.

San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey, who lives in and represents the region near where the fire burned, was also ordered to evacuate. He said he packed enough necessities for a weekend trip, plus some irreplaceable items like mementos from when his son was young, and headed to a relative's home.

"It was a harried experience," Kersey said. "I mean, trying to figure out what you need to bring, but having been through this before in 2007 — I don't want to say we've become accustomed to it, but it wasn't the first time either."

Photo by Susan Murphy

Fire officials at the Bernardo Fire command center at the Rancho Bernardo Recreation Community Center, May 14, 2014.

Kersey said San Diego has been planning for this since the 2007 fires.

"When you look at the brush management policy that we put in place encouraging people to have the defensible space around their homes, that's really key because the fire can come up to your house," he said. "The more defensible space you have, the better your chances are that your house is going to be spared. And I think that's what we saw."

Properties were evacuated in communities between the Rancho Peñasquitos and Rancho Santa Fe areas, sending people to Torrey Pines High School and later, Rancho Bernardo High School, to wait out the emergency. Evacuation orders were lifted for the Fairbanks Ranch and eastern Rancho Santa Fe areas around 8 p.m. Tuesday, sheriff's officials said.

Also evacuated on Tuesday were several area schools in the Poway Unified School District. On its website, the district said all of its schools would be open Wednesday, though it was understood many pupils may be absent if their families remained displaced.

The Rancho Bernardo High School evacuation center at 13010 Paseo Lucido remained open Wednesday. The Torrey Pines High School center was closed.

No structural damage was reported. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

Bernardo Fire Boundry

Approximate Bernardo Fire perimeter. Source: 10News

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