SANTEE, Calif. — Ground and airborne crews worked Thursday to extinguish an estimated 4-5-acre vegetation fire near Carlton Hills Blvd., across from Mast Park in Santee.
Firefighters got the call at 12:15 p.m. to check for smoke coming out of a riverbed near the intersection of Carlton Oaks Dr. and Carlton Hills Blvd, an area of thick brush that is near several homes.
The firefighters arrived to find a 50 ft x 50 ft area burning but it quickly spread after a palm tree caught fire and ignited additional brush in the area. Fire crews tried to contain it to the west side of the bridge on Carlton Hills Blvd., but some embers blew east and started additional hot spots.
An SDG&E helicopter and ASTREA helicopter made water drops from the air while firefighters attacked the fire from the ground.
“As the gusts of wind came up this afternoon you can see we had some spots on the east side of the bridge which was problematic so a second helicopter was ordered to handle that and our priority was to keep as small as possible," said Chief John Garlow with the Santee Fire Department.
The fire briefly threatened homes to the south, prompting evacuations of some nearby residences and the closure of traffic lanes in the immediate area while crews worked to extinguish the flames.
"It's very scary. This is the second major one we’ve had since we lived here and we’ve lived here since 1976," said Jean Deaton, who lives nearby.
Firefighters responded to a fire at a probable homeless encampment in the same area three weeks ago.
Several residents were seen side-by-side with firefighters using garden hoses to wet their roofs and fences and spray down the vegetation from the backyards of homes that line the riverbed.
"I looked out my window and the flames were probably 10 feet of orange flames heading near their house," said Char Hatch, a Santee resident.
"All the neighbors came together, going to each other's house, packing things. It’s nice to have such awesome neighbors," said Tatyana Press, a Santee resident.
Crews had the blaze under control by shortly after 3:30 p.m., sheriff's Sgt. Mark Moreno said. Fire crews will continue to remain on scene until all of the hot spots are out.
One firefighter was taken to the hospital for a heat-related injury.
Santee Fire posted on Instagram at 4 p.m that "Fire operations continue to impact the Mast Park area and may go well into the night. Continue to avoid the area due to road closures."
Watch coverage of the firefighting from Chopper 8: