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Camp Pendleton fire briefly forces 360 to evacuate hospital, residential compound

Oct. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
An SUV was destroyed by a wildfire first reported Saturday afternoon at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
An SUV was destroyed by a wildfire first reported Saturday afternoon at Camp Pendleton, Calif. (Cpl. Orrin Farmer / Marine Corps)
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A wildfire that tore through some 2,589 acres aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., is rapidly being contained, and an evacuation of several buildings, ordered over the weekend, is over, officials with the base said Monday.

Pendleton spokesman 1st Lt. Ryan Finnegan said that as of Monday morning, fire crews had contained 41 percent of the blaze, which mushroomed from 110 acres when first reported Saturday afternoon in the vicinity of Pendleton’s Lake O’Neil, toward the northeast corner of the base, to more than 2,500 acres by Sunday evening. Black smoke from the fire was visible in northern San Diego County, according to local accounts.

Officials announced Saturday evening that 330 residents of O’Neil Heights housing, a family housing community on base, had been evacuated to Pendleton’s Paige Fieldhouse to spend the night as the fire burned nearby. About the same time, Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton evacuated 30 of its patients to two nearby medical centers, Tri-City Hospital and Naval Medical Center San Diego, and diverted new patients there as well, according to releases.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, officials ended the evacuation order and residents were allowed to return to their homes. Some of the evacuated patients stayed at the nearby hospitals, however, rather than move a second time, Finnegan said.

To date, there are reports of four structures and two vehicles, a truck and an SUV, damaged by the fire, Finnegan said. One of the structures was a small trailer that had a corner burned out by the fire; he said he had few details on the other structures and the damage they sustained.

While he didn’t know if any residences were damaged in the fire, Finnegan said officials did receive reports of secondary damage from smoke, and from the water and fire-retardant spray used to fight the blaze from the air.

There have been no reports of fire-related injuries to date.

Finnegan said some training over the weekend was stopped with a hold-fire order as a precautionary measure. He didn’t have information Monday afternoon as to whether training had resumed as usual. Otherwise, he said, base operations had returned to normal.

“The hospital’s open, the gates are open, people are back at work,” he said.

Southern California Interagency Team 1 took command of firefighting operations Sunday afternoon, according to releases, overseeing 339 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, the base and local, county and state fire departments. Finnegan said officials leading the effort said they expected the fire to be extinguished by Tuesday as they continued to work toward containment. Officials expect no significant fire movement in the meantime, he said.

As the fire is more contained, the firefighting agencies will begin to demobilize personnel and assets who worked through the night on Sunday, according to releases.

What remained unclear Monday was how the fire started, Finnegan said. The region where the fire began is not near any live-fire training ranges, and Finnegan said he was unaware of any recreational shooting in the area.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the firefighting agencies, Finnegan said. He said he didn’t know if criminal activity or negligence was suspected.

Officials are encouraging base residents to call a hot line, (760) 725-9045, for the latest information on the fire. The hot line will be updated twice a day, in the morning and evening.

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