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Fire-Rescue Department

1985 - Normal Heights Fire

A fire fueled by heavy brush and strong winds raced up a series of Mission Valley canyons on June 30, 1985. The Normal Heights Fire burned 300 acres, destroyed 76 houses and damaged 57 others. Damage was set at $9 million. 1,000 to 1,500 people were evacuated. It was, at the time, the worst brush fire in San Diego history.

Heavy brush in the canyons and around the houses on the canyon rim propelled the fire. A force of some 400 firefighters and 98 rigs fought the fire. Firefighters from virtually every city and rural fire district in the county rushed to San Diego to help, including teams of federal firefighters from North Island and Miramar Naval Air Stations. The San Diego Fire Department called in 40 off-duty firefighters. Reinforcements came from Ventura, Imperial, Riverside and Orange Counties. By evening, two air tankers arrived from Ventura County.

The first call came in at 11:52 a.m., but the fire was already out of control when the first units arrived. By 1:00 p.m. it had gone to four alarms. The fire started near Camino del Rio South and Litchfield Road. At 96 degrees, it was the hottest day of the year, and at the time the hottest June 30th on record.

By evening, the fire zone was more than a mile long and a half mile wide. It was bounded by Interstate 805, Camino del Rio South, Copley Avenue and 35th Street.

The San Diego Union reported that baseball fans at the Stadium across Mission Valley turned their attention from the game and cheered as the air tankers from Ventura County began dropping retardant on the fire.

Firefighters eventually overcame the flames despite problems with low water pressure from water hydrants.

The Normal Heights fire pushed the City of San Diego to establish several initiatives including a weed and brush abatement program, an educational campaign for canyon rim residents and a plan to improve water pressure in the mid-city area.