ALPINE, Calif. - Two firefighters were injured Saturday while working to extinguish a string of brush fires along Interstate 8 between Alpine and Pine Valley, which may have been sparked by a vehicle's faulty catalytic converter.
One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion and the other for a possible fractured ankle, Cleveland National Forest spokeswoman Wende Cornelius said.
The fires were in the Cleveland National Forest east of Willows Road, west of Alpine, and the largest was about 16 acres. Three others were quickly contained.
The largest fire was fully contained by about 7 p.m., she said.
Callers began reporting the fires to the California Highway Patrol around 10:15 a.m., with one initially described as about the size as a vehicle.
Smoke was visible from the Border Patrol checkpoint on eastbound Interstate 8 about three miles east of Pine Valley, according to the CHP.
Minutes later, a second fire was reported about two miles to the east of the first, and then a third fire was spotted east of the checkpoint. A fourth fire also broke out in the area.
Concerned neighbors like Eric Svenson watched from his backyard across the freeway.
"It's an exciting season is what's going through my mind … here we go again," he said.
CHP officials said that an overheating catalytic converter on an unknown vehicle may have caused the fires.
Cal Fire crews were assisting those from the Cleveland National Forest to get the upper hand on a fire along the freeway, north of the Pine Valley viewpoint, according to Cal Fire.
Despite the steep, treacherous terrain, firefighters stopped the fast-moving flames before any homes were threatened.
"The last few days we had extreme Santa Ana conditions and if the fire would've started under those conditions, we'd probably be in a different situation right now," said Battalion Chief Rick Marinelli, who is with the U.S. Forest Service.
Svenson is used to fire season. The Viejas Fire in 2001 destroyed his barn and garage and killed his horse.
Then, the Cedar Fire in 2003 came close.
"The Cedar Fire burned from the west to the east … It burned that whole mountain, then that whole mountain … all burned at once," he said.
Now, Svenson and firefighters are concerned about what is in store for this upcoming season.
Firefighters and the CHP blocked one westbound lane on Interstate 8 near Willows Road before the blaze was fully contained, according to the CHP. All lanes of I-8 are now open.