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Investigators unearthed the cause of at least one of the wildfires that have ravaged the county this week. Turns out, a construction crew is responsible for the Bernardo Fire.

Authorites said Friday that the Bernardo Fire, which began at a construction site, started accidentally by a backhoe during excavation.

A crew of workers, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and other agencies, was testing soil samples by digging trenches (that’s where the backhoe came in) and were later surprised by smoke and flames in one of the areas. The workers tried to extinguish the flames but couldn’t and fled, according to a news release.

That puts the Bernardo Fire in the same company as the lion’s share of wildfires battled by Calfire – more than nine out of 10 are started by humans, but far fewer are set intentionally.

The top known causes of San Diego County wildfires in 2012 were equipment use, debris burning and lightning strikes, according to CalFire. The backhoe incident would appear to fall under the equipment use category.

The Escondido Police Department announced Thursday that they have arrested two people they believe tried to start two fires – but authorities don’t know yet whether they were connected to any of the fires that are still raging.

Earlier this week, San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn wondered on live TV whether the fires had been set by an arsonist still on the loose. Horn said he didn’t have any evidence, just “a gut feeling.”

Catherine Green contributed to this post.

Ari Bloomekatz

Ari Bloomekatz is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, focusing on county government. You can reach him directly at ari.bloomekatz@voiceofsandiego.org...

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