Banner fire 20 percent contained, scorches 2,500 acres

Roughly 100 residents were back in their homes this morning as firefighters slowly gained the upper hand on a wildfire that has scorched some 2,500 acres east of Julian, authorities said Friday.

The so-called Banner Fire near Banner Grade in the Shelter Valley area of eastern San Diego County began spreading about 2:15 p.m. Thursday, prompting the closure of several highways and the evacuation of scores of backcountry homes potentially in the path of the wind-driven flames, according to Cal Fire.

It was 20 percent contained as of early Friday, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Nick Schuler said.

“There’s been a lot of work done overnight,” he said. “The winds have increased a little bit but we’re making good progress.”

The blaze started moving in a southeasterly direction toward the desert, away from Julian, and residents of the Shelter Valley area were being allowed to return to their homes, according to a recorded message on the Cal Fire Incident Information Line.

About 500 firefighters were battling the blaze, the message stated. No estimate was given for when the fire would be fully contained and extinguished.

Within two hours of starting, the burn area had grown to more than 1,000 acres, according to Schuler. It expanded to roughly 2,500 acres by daybreak today, but no injuries or structural damage were reported, Schuler said.

It was not immediately clear what sparked the blaze, which was burning in an area scorched in early October by a 2,100-acre inferno dubbed the Great Fire. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

A shelter for displaced residents was opened at Borrego Springs High School but closed Thursday night after the evacuation orders were lifted.

   
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