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Business owners return to destroyed pallet yard after Caliente Fire

Posted at 6:34 PM, Aug 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-03 09:50:59-04

OTAY MESA, Calif., (KGTV) — Thursday's Caliente Fire turned into a massive blaze at a pallet yard in Otay Mesa, a fire that has burned nearly 500 acres.

The business owners returned to the yard Friday to find devastation, as the blaze remained 75% contained.

This is not a dream. The life that Francisco and Carolina Ramirez built is now gone. 

"You're hoping that it will you will wake up in the morning and go back as usual. But you realize when you wake up, it's real," Francisco Ramirez said. 

RELATED: Cause of Caliente Fire in Otay Mesa under investigation

Twenty-five years ago, the couple had the idea to recycle unwanted wood plants and turn them into pallets. It was an effort to help Mother Nature. But on Thursday, it was Mother Nature that destroyed their business, Atlas Wood Pallets. 

"It's like we've been into a war. And then after that, we only see ashes," Ramirez said. 

Ramirez says his yard was a small city made of 60,000 pallets. But 99.9% of his inventory is now ash. The 8-foot loading dock is now a swimming pool of dirt. And what seemed to be a lifetime supply of nail gun nails are now unusable. 

INTERACTIVE MAP: Where the Caliente Fire burned

Ramirez admits, he did not think it would get this bad. 

"Far away, we saw that the little fire started, and then a fire truck was nearby, so at that point I thought everything was under control," Ramirez said. 

But the topography of the canyon and the sudden gusts caused the flames to zig-zag straight to their yard. 

"The canyon has a different amount of fuel, so you get a change in the fuel. And also how the wind traverses or travels through a canyon affects the rate of spread," San Diego Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Chris Heiser said. 

RELATED: Evacuations lifted after Caliente Fire tears through Otay Mesa, destroys local business

Charred cars are now being dragged out of the way to make room for firefighters to mop up. These are the first steps to rebuilding. It's something the Ramirez family is confident they can do again. 

"We built up so many friends. We build relationships with the community business. So I see an opportunity to re-grow faster than 25 years ago," Ramirez said. "We have the experience now," wife Carolina said. 

The origin and cause of the fire are still under investigation.