Officials: Arson caused blaze near Julian in eastern San Diego County, California

JULIAN, Calif. (AP) -- A 685-acre wildfire near this picturesque mountain town is being investigated as an arson, a forestry official said.

Nearly 900 firefighters were battling the stubborn blaze in eastern San Diego County on the flanks of 5,300-foot Volcan Mountain, said Audrey Hagen of the California Department of Forestry.

The fire was about 30 percent contained Thursday night after destroying 20 hunting cabins and four trailers, said the CDF's Roxanne Provaznik. Firefighters hoped for full containment by Sunday and control by Oct. 1.

Flames were burning in the Volcan Mountain area to the north but winds were blowing them away from Julian, a tiny town rooted in a brief 19th century gold rush and later the center of an apple-growing region. Its pie shops, bed-and-breakfasts and country atmosphere now draw visitors to the area about 40 miles northeast of San Diego.

It has survived three major blazes since 2002.

''There's obviously something special about Julian,'' said CDF spokesman Matt Streck. ''It's been very fortunate.''

The blaze broke out Tuesday in a rugged timber area where about one-fourth of the trees are dead from drought and an infestation of bark beetles, Streck said.

A recorded message on the forestry department's media line Friday morning said the fire was an arson but did not indicate why officials came to that conclusion.

More than 890 firefighters from 70 engine companies, 20 camp crews, nine bulldozer crews and eight helicopters were working the blaze.

One firefighter was hospitalized after being stung on the face by bees, but was expected to recover, Streck said.

The most recent threat to Julian was the Cedar Fire, which began Oct. 25, 2003, in the Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego. That wildfire burned 422 square miles, killed 15 people, destroyed more than 2,400 homes and caused $819 million in property damage.