Investigation under way into El Cajon brush fire

Fire started off 1700 block of Reuben Fleet Drive

EL CAJON, Calif. - Firefighters are investigating whether a joint fire-police SWAT team exercise -- which used some sort of smoke bomb during an official Red Flag wind warning -- may have sparked a 4-acre brush fire that injured one firefighter and briefly threatened houses, firefighters said Sunday.

The fire started at 2:33 p.m. off the 1700 block of Reuben Fleet Drive, near Gillespie Way, according to Sonny Saghera, a spokesman for the Heartland Fire & Rescue Department.

Firefighters and El Cajon police were conducting the joint SWAT exercise at a nearby firing range just before the fire was reported, Saghera said.

Investigators had made no determination but continued to look into whether that training sparked the blaze, he said.

Officials told 10News on Saturday that they believed a spark from a "non-pyrotechnic smoking device" ignited the fire.

Saghera said the SWAT team had set up precautions beforehand, but the fire had spread too quickly.

"They did have a vehicle, a small suppression vehicle on standby for this training that they were going to use in case anything happened but they weren't able to catch it with that," he said.

The fire moved uphill in light flashy fuels and briefly threatened homes on Hacienda Drive, but none were damaged, Saghera said. No evacuations were issued.

Several engines protected the homes and radio transmission lines, Saghera said.

Several fire departments responded aggressively to the fire. Two helicopters were called in to douse the fire from above.

The blaze was contained as of 3:44 p.m., a Heartland Fire & Rescue dispatcher said.

However, many residents are asking why the fire even occurred.

"You would think that they would have thought it through," one resident told 10News.

The flames came close to the home of retired sheriff's Deputy Ponzio Oliverio. He is sympathetic but still has questions about why it happened.

"They probably thought they had everything covered, but again, in conditions like this things can just get away from you," he said.

10News contacted the El Cajon Police Department to ask why training of that nature was not canceled during a Red Flag warning. 10News has yet to hear back from them.

"It might have been a better idea to cancel," said Oliverio.

One firefighter was taken to Grossmont Hospital in stable condition to be treated for a knee injury, Saghera said.

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