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Firefighters battle the Lilac Fire in northern San Diego County on Dec. 7. Photo by Jeff Hall/Cal Fire
Carlsbad Featured News Oceanside Region San Marcos Vista

Officials say Lilac Fire won’t be fully contained until Dec. 21


7:57 p.m. DEC. 11 | North County residents continued returning to their homes today as firefighters have reached 90 percent containment on a wildfire that scorched 4,100 acres between Fallbrook and Oceanside.

Despite the progress, officials don’t expect to have the so-called Lilac Fire fully contained until Dec. 21, which would mark exactly two weeks since it erupted for unknown reasons just west of Interstate 15 and north of Lilac Road in Pala Mesa, amid gusty, arid Santa Ana winds.

The extended containment outlook is because hand crews must dig down to bare soil around the burn area, ensuring there is no fuel if hot spots do flare up, Cal Fire San Diego Capt. Kendal Bortisser explained.

All roads closed during the blaze were re-opened by about 4 p.m. Sunday and all evacuations orders were lifted earlier in the day, though two areas remained closed to everyone except residents: the Rancho Monserate Country Club mobile home park in Fallbrook, which suffered heavy losses, as well as an area between 5200 and 5800 Olive Hill Road in Fallbrook.

Several schools and school districts affected by the Lilac Fire remained closed today, including Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, Fallbrook Union High School District, Mountain Empire Unified School District, Spencer Valley School District, Valley Center Pauma Unified and St. Peter the Apostle Catholic school.

All other schools that closed Friday were back open today, county officials said.

Palomar College in San Marcos and its six education sites also re- opened today for normally scheduled classes and activities, though the main campus’ Dome will remain open as a Red Cross evacuation center, district officials said.

A second shelter at Bostonia Park and Recreation Center in El Cajon also remained open today.

The Lilac Fire destroyed 157 structures and damaged 64 more, but no deaths were reported. In total, 1,659 firefighters responded to the blaze, with the response peaking Sunday with 1,409 firefighters on scene, most of them digging out the containment line around the charred area and putting out hot spots.

The Santa Ana winds that drove the fire Thursday are no longer a threat, but temperatures will remain 15 to 20 degrees above average this week with low humidity levels, so the threat of more fires remains slightly elevated. A red flag wildfire warning from the National Weather Service expired at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Henry Herrera said many of the Cal Fire crews that battled the Lilac Fire will now be sent to Ventura County to help fight the Thomas Fire, which broke out last Monday, has scorched more than 230,000 acres and is only 15 percent contained.

Officials said the Thomas Fire is the fifth largest wildfire in state history, though the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County still holds the record with 273,246 acres burned. The 2007 Witch Fire and 1970 Laguna Fire, both in San Diego County, are also among the 10 largest in California history.


REGION — The County Board of Supervisors today voted to waive permit fees for the rebuilding of more than 200 structures that have been destroyed or damaged in the Lilac Fire.

The board also extended an emergency declaration in relation to the fire.

The waiver of plan review and permit fees could save residents and businesses thousands of dollars as they begin the task of rebuilding. For example, the county typically charges at least $4,200 for the review and permitting of a 2,000-square-feet house, according to a fee table.

The waivers apply to structures within the fire’s perimeter in unincorporated areas and any other areas in which county approval is needed.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to the residents of our county who have lost everything this holiday season,” Director of Emergency Services Holly Crawford said.

The blaze began at around 11:15 a.m. on Thursday, just west of Interstate 15 and north of Lilac Road in Pala Mesa, amid gusty, arid winds.

The fire has held at 4,100 acres since Thursday night. It is 80 percent contained as of this morning, according to Cal Fire.

Thousands of North County residents were forced to evacuate after the fire broke out. All evacuation orders were lifted by Sunday night.

The county counts 104 residential structures destroyed and 13 damaged, two commercial structures destroyed and five damaged, 78 accessory structures (such as barns) destroyed and 10 damaged, according to Amy Harbert, the county’s disaster recovery manager.

Several resources are available to people navigating the recovery and rebuilding process.

Residents can visit a local assistance center that has been set up at the Vista branch of the county library at 700 Eucalyptus Ave. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. beginning today.

Residents may also visit or call (858) 495-5200.