Skip to main content

Lilac Fire Ravaged San Diego’s North County A Year Ago

Flames consume a structure as the Lilac fire burns in Bonsall, Calif., on Fri...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Flames consume a structure as the Lilac fire burns in Bonsall, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017.

San Diego residents were focused on a December wildfire in the North County a year ago.

The fierce blaze burned through homes and brush over a couple of days upending the holiday season for thousands of people. Traffic backed up along Interstate 15 on that unusually hot December day.

Police were trying to keep people away from the area where a large plume of smoke towered over the landscape. Sparked in roadside brush next to I-15, the fire was whipped up by wind gusts approaching 80 miles per hour.

San Diego County officials gathered late on Dec. 7 at a hastily called press conference. It was a very rough day after the flames began burning out of control.

“There are going to be more evacuations. There are thousands of homes that are within the path of these fires. And every resident needs to take this very seriously,” said Ron Lane, the San Diego County chief information officer.

RELATED: North County Representatives React To Lilac Fire

Santa Ana winds occur in San Diego, but usually not in December. This late season wind was already responsible for a number of fires to the north.

“It was seven days into a Santa Ana wind event, I think this was the seventh or eighth fire that had broken out in southern California,” said Issac Sanchez, CalFire captain.

The flames quickly reached a mobile-home community near I-15. Many of the houses were consumed by the flames, but the people got out.

“The public was ready to go. They made the decision to evacuate themselves. They didn’t wait for the alerts to come. Although the alert system was activated folks were notified to evacuate in certain portions of the area that was impacted. But many many people chose to evacuate on their own prior to those alerts coming out,” Sanchez said.

The quick action meant no human lives were lost. Overall, the flames destroyed more than 200 buildings, 114 of them homes. Another 70 structures were damaged.

And there was a tragedy at San Luis Rey Downs. Horses panicked as the swift-moving flames approached the stalls at the training center and 46 horses lost their lives in the confusion, even as hundreds more were rescued.

RELATED: San Luis Rey Stables Back To Racing After Devastating Lilac Fire

After the initial threat subsided, state, federal and local officials stepped in to help with recovery efforts.

The San Diego Foundation’s Regional Disaster Fund delivered more than $400,000 and leveraged another million during the last year. That money went to people whose lives were turned upside down by the fire.

“Many of them have limited incomes and limited mobility and we don‘t always have extensive resources at the government level or in a nonprofit area to be able to serve the complex needs that these people have so this is where the disaster fund comes in,” said Connie Matsui, interim CEO of the San Diego Foundation.

Lilac Fire One Year Later

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Matters podcast branding

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.