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Southbound I-5 Shut Down For Two Hours After Flames Erupt By Border

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UPDATE: 9:33 a.m., June 11, 2018

A fire broke out early Monday morning near the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 in the South Bay, prompting firefighters and highway patrol officers to shut down all southbound lanes just a little north of the U.S.-Mexico border for about two hours, authorities said.

The worst flames from the noninjury blaze erupted about 5:05 a.m. off the west side of the freeway near Dairy Mart Road in San Ysidro, California Highway Patrol public-affairs Officer Tommy Doerr said. But fire officials believe the blaze may have actually started on the east side of the freeway, and then moved to the opposite side through a dry drainage ditch running under the interstate.

The first crews to arrive at the scene reported finding a roughly 20- foot-by-20-foot blaze scorching thick, nearly inaccessible vegetation just off the west shoulder of the freeway, a firefighter told a dispatcher.

"It's heavy brush that was burning," San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokeswoman Monica Munoz said. "The total is about a half-acre burned ... They stopped the forward rate of spread about 6 a.m."

Because the flames were hard to access and growing, the initial crew requested support, and by about 5:30 a.m., officials dispatched a helicopter, several engines, a brush rig, a water tender and other fire crews and vehicles, according to an SDFD incident log. The helicopter was unable to aid in the fight because of low clouds.

Firefighters gathered on the southbound freeway lanes to battle the blaze and requested the CHP to shut down all southbound lanes, Doerr said. Initially, the far left lane remained open, allowing cars to pass, but by 5:45 a.m., all vehicles were being detoured off the freeway at Dairy Mart Road.

A single lane on the southbound side reopened a few minutes before 8 a.m. The cause of the blaze was not immediately known, but no vehicles were believed to be involved, Doerr said.

Southbound I-5 Shut Down For Two Hours After Flames Erupt By Border
Southbound I-5 Shut Down For Two Hours After Flames Erupt By Border GUEST: Alex Tardy, meteorologist, National Weather Service

>>> Our top story today is a brush fire that closed interstate five this morning. The summer fire season is almost upon us. The National Weather Service meteorologist Alex tardy is here to tell us how it is shaping up this year. Thank you for joining us, Alex. >> Thank you for having me. >>> We have had quite a few fires and none of them to series. Most of the potential is pretty serious and San Diego County. >> You are right. The summer has already started out with numerous fires, most have been kept under 100 acres. If that is your neighborhood, it is scary and today -- dangerous. Because of the winter we did not have, as a petition was our second brightest on record for San Diego. For orange county and a lot of places, it looks like we will have a very active fire season because we have gone from 2 years ago when it was really wet to this year with record-breaking dry and conditions are perfect, meaning the fuels, grasses, weeds, registration, what little rain we got this past winter, you can counted on one hand. A January storm, a March storm, it was just enough to lay down the grass, the weeds, the annual vegetation and our fuels were the fires really grow, trees, that is the stuff that is incredibly dry right now because of the dry winter. >> It seems like either way, if we have a wet winter there is a problem because there is a lot of grass. You are saying that a dry winter is as bad if not worse? >> They are both bad. 2 years ago when we had the wet winter, what you need is a lot of grass and that sets the stage for the fire to spread into the bigger trees. Whether they are dead or alive trees, like I said, so that year, we had tall weeds and brush and flowers. It was pretty in the spring but when they died off with our normal warm, dry summer, it set the stage for setting -- spreading fire. This year, we have not recovered our fuels and the big trees are very dry. This winter was insult to injury. >> Is there an area of the county you are particularly concerned about? >> That is a good question. A lot of the places that get looked at by Cal Fire and others are areas that have not burned for a long time. What we have seen so far is a lot of urban interface type fires by the highways we had one here by the University. That was a week ago. Those were really concerning. Usually they can get a handle on them quickly. They are burning aggressively already with little wind and high humidity. It is easy to forget because this week will be hot, that the month of May was below normal and we had may gray days. >> It has been beautifully -- beautiful. >> It has been beautifully cool. There are a lot of places where urban interfaces have not burned or there is dead vegetation. That is the biggest concern. For the big fires that are more wind driven, that is susceptible to anywhere in the county. >> We used to cut down brush. There used to be programs to do that. Do you feel like the counties prepared in terms of keeping that dense undergrowth under control? >> Yes. When it comes to prevention, defensive space, we saw that the 2014 fires were defensive space, meaning you have your home or your business or residents or a baseball field and there is a certain area where it is kept, maintained, watered and clear of rushed. That can really help prevent fire space. We are still burning in areas of the woods, trying to remove dead trees. It is a slow process. Statewide, the numbers are staggering. There is -- there are 120 million dead trees from the drop of 2012. In 2016 they got infested by Beatles and died. The U.S. forest service has only removed about 1 or 2%. It is a lot of work. There is a balance between removing too much or letting it burn naturally. It is tricky when it is near the urban interface because you have to protect the properties. >> You have predictions about temperatures in the coming months and went? -- Winds? >> One thing we have been good at is predicting temperature. This summer looks no different. It looks about normal. So we will have heat waves. What we saw in May was not a trend of what we expect to go on through the summer, unfortunately. We are looking for cooler weather. This week will warm-up about normal, quite hot inland, around 90 along I 15 -- -- I-15. Our deserts are just like that. The summer looks to be long and hot. In terms of wind as we get into September and October, there is not much on the table that indicates anything unusual. With that being said, on the average fall in San Diego, we see 5 to 8 Santa Ana winds events of a different variety. One of them, when you go into the season as dry as we already are and already can be, it makes everyone of those Santa Anna events critical. The only thing that can help is surprise rainstorms. We do not really see those in the cards. Subtropical moisture will try to come up from the Baja region later this week we will probably just see clouds over the San Diego area. >> Alex tardy, thank you for joining us. >> Thank you for having the. >> That is a tardy, National Weather Service meteorologist.