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Crews Work Through Night To Fight Brush Fire Near Barona Casino

Updated story on day 2 of the Wildcat fire can be viewed here.

Photo caption:

Photo by Christopher Maue

Firefighters on the ground watch as a plane drops retardant on the Wildcat fire near the Barona Casino in Lakeside, June 17, 2015.

The fire broke out about 5 p.m. Wednesday off Wildcat Canyon Road near the Barona Casino in Lakeside. Wildcat Canyon Road was closed near San Vincente Road.

UPDATE: 8:50 p.m.

Cal Fire has updated the size of the Wildcat fire, saying it has grown to 150 acres. It remains 10 percent contained.

One witness to the blaze that took off around 5 p.m. and spread to 50 acres within two hours was Jeff Whitlock. His friend's home was destroyed in the October 2003 Cedar fire in the Wildcat Canyon area near Lakeside, so when he heard about Wednesday's blaze he raced to the rebuilt house to see if he could help keep the flames away.

"When I first got here, it was out quite a ways, but it came fast. It went all around the (house)," Whitlock said, with Cal Fire trucks surrounding the single-story house.

He credits his friend's decision to make sure the area around the house was cleared of brush with keeping it safe in this fire. Fire officials encourage people to create defensible space around their homes, particularly in high-fire areas.

"Because it was so clean up here, it was bare," Whitlock said. Firefighters told him "that's the only way they could get here and fight it. ... It was easy."

Here's information from San Diego County on fire and defensible space.

Photo caption:

Photo by Christopher Maue

A firefighter inspects the scene at a house that was spared when the Wildcat brush fire broke out near Lakeside, June 17, 2015.

UPDATE: 7:45 p.m.

The Wildcat fire near Lakeside remains at 50 acres and is 10 percent contained, but it was the first significant brush fire of the year in San Diego County, Cal Fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser told KPBS.

For context, Cal Fire reports that 2,217 brush fires have occurred this year in the state, burning 7,516 acres. That's more fires but less acreage than burned last year for the same period. The five-year average for that period is 1,461 fires and 12,336 acres.

"I have not met with any of the folks that live in the area so I don't know what their demeanor is. But I can imagine that since we live with wildfire year-round in San Diego County, I'm sure folks throughout the area are on edge as a result of the fire," Bortisser said.

Photo caption:

Photo by Christopher Maue

Three firefighters stand watch as crews from the air and ground fought the Wildcat fire near Lakeside, June 17, 2015.

UPDATE: 7:10 p.m.

Cal Fire says Wildcat fire has potential to grow to 500 acres but so far is holding at 50 acres.

No cause yet determined for fire, said Cal Fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser said.

UPDATE: 6:40 p.m.

Cal Fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser told Fox 5 that firefighters have so far kept the Wildcat fire to about 50 acres. "They're making a strong attack from the ground and air," he said.

Aircraft working the fire now will work it until sunset, but then San Diego fire would have a helicopter available if necessary, Bortisser said.

Wildcat Canyon Road remains closed from San Vicente Road to Founders Way.

Fire departments helping Cal Fire battle the blaze are Barona, Heartland and Lakeside, as well as the U.S. Forest Service.

Photo caption:

Photo by Christopher Maue

Firetrucks from the San Diego County Fire Department and the U.S. Forest Service were part of the equipment sent to respond to the Wildcat fire near Lakeside, June 17, 2015.

ORIGINAL POST

A fast-moving wildfire spread over brushy hillsides and ravines east of the Barona Casino late Wednesday, scorching dozens of acres, threatening backcountry homes and forcing some residents to evacuate.

The fire erupted for unknown reasons off Wildcat Canyon Road and Akuunyaa Way in the Lakeside area about 5 p.m., according to Cal Fire. The California Highway Patrol closed Wildcat Canyon Road at San Vicente Road.

Shortly before 6 p.m., the wind-driven flames had scorched about 40 acres and were moving toward some residences, said Cal Fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser.

Crews were battling the blaze, dubbed the Wildcat fire, from the ground and air.

Sheriff's Lt. Robert Smith said seven homes were evacuated on the Barona Indian reservation. They were sent to the Barona Casino, which is not threatened by the fire, Smith said.

As of 6 p.m., no further evacuations were ordered because no other structures were threatened at that time, he said.

Contributing to this report were KPBS staffers Megan Burke, Megan Burks, Marissa Cabrera, Nathan John, Christopher Maue and Brooke Ruth.

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