Crews contain four fires along I-8 in East County - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Crews contain four fires along I-8 in East County

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(photo courtesy Sam Parthemer) (photo courtesy Sam Parthemer)

ALPINE (CBS 8) - 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.

"If this would have started a couple days ago with the Santa Ana winds, it would have been a different story," said Rick Marinelli, U.S. Forest Service. 

Minutes after a series of small fires broke out along Interstate 8 Saturday morning, ground crews and air support were already on the scene.

"We had four tankers, two helicopters and an air attack. The way it was moving at the beginning warranted the high response," said Marinelli. 

There were a total of four fires. 

The first appeared along the westbound lanes of I-8 near Pine Valley. But it was a 15 acre brush fire - east of Alpine at the viewpoint exit - that had crews struggling.

One firefighter suffered an ankle injury. Another had to be airlifted out for heat exhaustion.

"The terrain is real steep and treacherous. There's a high risk for kicking rocks loose with everybody pulling their hose and all that stuff. It's definitely cumbersome to suppression efforts, but they're dealing with it," Marinelli said. 

By 4 p.m., the fire was 60 percent contained. As crews worked to put it out, nearby residents pulled over to check on the progress.

"We were scared that it might come down and burn us like it did in 2000," Adam said. 

Adam lives on the Viejas Reservation. He took pictures when the fire initially got underway and says he can't thank these firefighters enough.

"They were on it within five minutes," he said. 

Also impressed with the quick response was Tim Heidcamp. The Clairemont resident was heading to Lake Cuyamaca to go fishing when his truck broke down right in the fire's path.

"We had a ringside seat watching the planes dump their stuff. It was a nice distraction I guess when thinking about putting a new engine in the truck, you know," he said. 

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

Cal Fire crews were assisting those from the Cleveland National Forest to get the upper hand on a fire along the freeway, north of the Pine Valley viewpoint, according to Cal Fire.

Firefighters and the CHP blocked one westbound lane on Interstate 8 near Willows Road before the blaze was fully contained, according to the CHP.

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