El Cajon-area brush fire blamed on SWAT exercise

Fire burned about 4 acres

EL CAJON, Calif. - A weekend brush fire that blackened about four open acres and briefly threatened homes near Gillespie Field airport was sparked by a SWAT team taking part in exercises on a firing range, authorities confirmed Monday.

The blaze erupted off the 1700 block of Ruben Fleet Road in El Cajon shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday, while a "red flag" wildfire alert was in effect in the region due to gusty winds, warm temperatures and low humidity levels.

Officers were training with smoke canisters when the brush behind the El Cajon police gun range erupted, briefly threatening homes on the ridge above the range.

"I'm kind of surprised they were doing that kind of thing during a red, high fire season," said Kathy Culver, a resident in the area.  

The fire moved uphill toward a group of homes on Hacienda Drive, but crews were able to halt it before it could cause any structural damage. One crew member suffered a knee injury while extinguishing the flames.

"We're very cautious about fire up here," said 13-year resident Ray Lewis, who added he supports the range and the training that goes on there, but also said, "To be dropping little bombs in or near all that dry brush is a little dangerous, but I'm sure it was an accident."   

"The SWAT team followed all safety precautions (but) underestimated the weather conditions," Lt. Mark Coit said. "The (personnel are) currently re-evaluating the safety procedures for the deploying of such devices. The Heartland Fire Department will provide additional training to ensure that similar events do not occur."

El Cajon police Chief Jim Redman said, "The department regrets any inconvenience to residents."


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