BONSALL (CBSLA/AP) – Crews were able to increase containment of the 4,100-acre blaze burning in northern San Diego County overnight Friday and lifting some mandatory evacuation orders.
The Lilac Fire was 20 percent contained Saturday morning, according to CAL Fire. At least 105 structures have been destroyed and 15 damaged.
Fire officials expected favorable conditions Saturday morning. However, Santa Ana winds and low humidity were expected to return Saturday afternoon, creating a challenge for the more than 800 firefighters battling the fire.
The fire broke out near Old Highway 395 and Dulin Road in Bonsall at around 11 a.m. Thursday. Santa Ana winds rapidly spread to an area of six square-miles: east to the 15 Freeway, north into Fallbrook, south past the 76 Freeway, and west near the border of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
John Knapp did not initially believe a sheriff deputy’s order to leave when he first spotted the fire outside his home in the Rancho Monserate Country Club in Fallbrook.
“I thought he was full of bologna, but once I saw the flames and the smoke I thought that maybe he’s right,” Knapp said.
After leaving, he watched from a nearby highway for five hours as the community went up in smoke.
More than a third of the community’s 213 mobile homes burned as fire zigzagged along a hillside, skipping some streets and razing others. On one street, all 24 mobile homes were gone, with only hulls of cars and twisted metal remaining.
Knapp was sure he had seen his house burn on the television news, so he was expecting the worst when he snuck past a police barricade to witness the damage and was surprised to find it still standing.
Others who managed to get out with little more than the clothes on their backs were not as fortunate.
Dick Marsala was too overwhelmed to speak as he searched through the smoldering remnants of his house, trying to find his wallet. A framed photo of him playing golf was still hanging on a blackened wall.
“I’ll be darned,” he said, his eyes tearing up as he put on sunglasses
Tom Metier, whose home was spared, zipped through the mobile home park in a golf cart, giving bad news to some of the neighbors who called him.
“It’s really horrible to see some of these little streets look like a moonscape,” he told a friend whose home was reduced to black rubble.
At the fire’s height, 10,000 people were evacuated. However, many of those were allowed to return home Saturday as their mandatory evacuation orders were downgraded to voluntary. The shelter operations were being consolidated to Palomar College in San Marcos.
Cal Fire reported that three civilians suffered burn injuries, one suffered smoke inhalation and two firefighters suffered minor injuries.
An estimated 30 to 40 elite thoroughbred horses were killed when the fire engulfed about eight barns at the San Luis Rey training center in Bonsall. Pandemonium broke out as hundreds of horses were set free to prevent them from burning in their stables. They nearly stampeded trainer Kim Marrs as she rescued a horse named Spirit World.
Marrs said it was devastating to see the remains of once regal animals.
“It’s pretty apocalyptic,” she said. “When you touch them it’s just ash.”
On Saturday, a fundraising effort spearheaded by Santa Anita Park and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club had raised more than $477,000 towards caring for the injured horses.
At the fire’s height, nearly 20,000 San Diego Gas & Electric customers were without power Thursday afternoon. A little more than 2,000 were still without electricity as of Saturday, according to SDG&E’s website.
The following area remained under a mandatory evacuation:
West Lilac Road and Sullivan Middle School. South of Burma Rd.
East of Wilshire North of N. River Rd. West of S. Mission Ave.
South of Reche Rd., West of I-15 Freeway.
East of Green Canyon Rd. & S. Mission Rd., North of Hwy 76.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)