PALA MESA (CNS) - A day after making progress against the Lilac Fire thanks to lighter winds, crews can expect to see Santa Ana winds pick up again today as they enter their third day of battle.
The fire scorched about 4,100 acres within 24 hours near Fallbrook and destroyed at least 105 structures and damaged 15 others. Thousands of North County residents fled their homes after the blaze broke out for unknown reasons about 11:25 a.m. Thursday just west of Interstate 15 and north of Lilac Road in Pala Mesa amid gusty, arid weather.
At least 1,500 structures remain threatened, authorities said.
The number of acres affected by the fire has remained steady since Thursday night. Since then, firefighters have been working to increase the containment of the fire -- reducing the number of hot spots that could reignite when fanned by Santa Ana winds forecast to return this afternoon.
The fire is now 20 percent contained.
``There's still tons and tons of hot spots out there,'' Cal Fire Capt. Jon Heggie told KUSI on Saturday morning.
Crews have largely transitioned their efforts from the air to the ground, he said. More than 800 firefighters and other personnel are working on the fire.
Strong winds are expected to return Saturday afternoon and continue into Sunday.
A ``red flag'' warning issued by the National Weather Service is in effect until 8 p.m. Sunday. The strongest winds are expected in the San Diego County mountains and foothills, with gusts over 60 mph, accord to the NWS.
The winds, coupled with humidity levels below 15 percent, make for prime fire conditions.
``Winds will diminish steadily from Sunday afternoon through Sunday night, and the critical fire weather conditions will wane Sunday night,'' the NWS said. ``However, offshore flow will prevail through next week and continue very low humidity and occasional local gusty winds, though current indications are that we will have elevated versus critical fire weather conditions most of the week.''
People should avoid activities that could cause fires, authorities said. That includes keeping vehicles off dry grass, practicing safe towing, avoiding activities with open flames, properly discarding cigarettes and obeying burn bans. State damage assessment teams have begun their inspections, and damaged and destroyed numbers are likely to change, authorities said. San Diego Gas & Electric restored power to about 11,500 customers as of 7 p.m. Friday. Some 9,400 were still without electricity at that time, according to county officials. There were at least six injuries reported Thursday, including a firefighter who dislocated a shoulder and one who was taken to a hospital for smoke inhalation. Three non-firefighters suffered burn wounds of unknown severity while another person suffered a case of smoke inhalation. Evacuation centers open today are Palomar College in San Marcos, East Valley Community Center in Escondido and Stagecoach Community Park in Carlsbad. Large animals can be sheltered at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Evacuation orders are in effect for the following areas:
-- West Lilac Road;
-- Sullivan Middle School;
-- South of Burma Road,
-- east of Wilshire Road, north of North River Road;
-- west of South Mission Avenue;
-- South of Reche Road, west of Interstate 15;
-- East of Green Canyon Road and South Mission Road, North of Highway 76.
Evacuation warnings are in effect for the following areas:
-- North of Pala Road;
-- South of Reche Road;
-- West of Interstate 15 Freeway, east of Green Canyon Road and west Mission Road;
-- West of Wilshire Road to North River Road;
-- South of North River Road from Wilshire Road to Holly Lane;
-- South of Holly Lane from North River Road to Mission Road;
-- South of Little Gopher Canyon Road to Sagewood Road;
-- South of Dentro De Lomas at Nors Ranch Road;
-- Via Maria Elena South of Camino Del Rey.
The county has issued boil water orders for some areas affected by power outages: the Boulevard Pines Movile Home and RV Park in Boulevard, Butterfield Ranch in Julian and Cameron Corners and Campo Group in Campo. The order will be lifted once tests confirm water in those areas is not contaminated by bacteria.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Photo: Getty Images