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Tuesday, September 06, 2005 | At least 200 homes were evacuated in Rancho Penasquitos on Monday as a 150-acre brush fire came within a mile of hundreds of houses.

The fire was “the worst fire the department has responded to since the Cedar Fire” because of its proximity to so many homes, said Maurice Luque, a San Diego Fire Department spokesman. But Luque added Monday night that he is confident that the danger has passed.

The brush fire covered 150 acres to the west of Carmel Mountain Road and to the south of Penasquitos Drive. No structures had been damaged by 7 p.m. Monday, Luque said, and the blaze was 40 percent contained.

Conditions are exacerbating efforts to fight the fire, Luque said. The valley is extremely hot and dry and there is a lot of overgrown, dry brush in the area.

However, he said the wind had subsided by Monday evening and firefighters expected to have the brush fire fully contained by about 2 a.m. Tuesday. He said the fire should be extinguished completely by Tuesday night.

A San Diego firefighter battling the blaze suffered heat exhaustion and was treated and released back to work Monday, said Luque. He said a U.S. Forest Service firefighting crew was involved in a traffic accident en route to the fire and that the crew suffered injuries but he could not provide details.

The Red Cross, which has been busy over the Labor Day weekend preparing for a possible influx of evacuees from areas hit by Hurricane Katrina, set up an evacuation shelter in Rancho Penasquitos, according to Red Cross spokeswoman Gayle Falkenthal.

The evacuation shelter is at Mount Carmel High School, 9550 Carmel Mountain Road. Luque said he saw about 50 nearby residents using the shelter Monday night.

He said firefighters would evaluate the situation Monday night and decide if and when displaced residents would be allowed to return to their homes.

The Red Cross is also providing a canteen for emergency personnel at Los Penasquitos Elementary School, 14125 Cuca St.

More than 350 firefighters and a number of Marines helped fight the blaze, according to Luque. Their efforts on the ground were supported by an aerial attack, which included five helicopters dropping water and five air tankers dropping fire retardant.

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