HOLTVILLE — The cause of the third-alarm fire that torched eight acres of brush and a thick grove of palms along Interstate 8 near the popular Holtville Hot Springs remains under investigation, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management reported Wednesday, Dec. 23.
The Friday, Dec. 18, fire was reported about 8:20 p.m. and burned brush on mostly county land located east of the East Highline Canal and south of I-8 near Holdridge Road.
The fire originated on the ground near the hot springs before alighting a surrounding stand of palm trees whose embers were carried southward across the interstate by wind gusts, further igniting brush south of the highway.
Although some structures, such as a public shower facility, are located at the BLM’s day-use area at the hot springs, they did not sustain any damage, the Imperial County Fire Department previously reported.
The hot springs have been closed since March because of COVID-19, but the BLM’s long-term visitor area remains accessible to the public for camping, a BLM spokesperson said.
The hot springs were a popular draw for visitors, and especially for the snowbirds who populate the surrounding public lands in their recreational vehicles during the winter months.
The county Fire Department was the lead agency during the incident and was provided mutual assistance by the Holtville, Brawley, El Centro, and Calipatria fire departments.
Because of snowbirds’ frequent use of the public lands, firefighters had conducted a search of the fire-impacted area to ensure no one was in harm’s way, Holtville Fire Chief Alex Silva said Monday, Dec. 21.
Some responding firefighters had remained on scene into the next day to ensure no hot spots reignited.
Holtville resident Carlos Torres said he was near the hot springs area when the fire started. He said he watched in awe as the palm trees surrounding the springs were fully engulfed and wind gusts sent embers south across the interstate.
“It was gnarly,” Torres said, who provided video footage and photos of the blaze.
(To see a photo gallery of the fire from Holtville resident Paul Nilson, click here.)
The fire was also unfortunate considering the destruction of the palm trees that provided the hot springs and an adjacent pond with cover for human and animal visitors alike.
“Snowbirds spend a lot of time there, and now that it’s burned down, it’s kind of sad,” Torres said.
Firefighters were able to extinguish the bulk of the brush fire shortly after arriving on scene, although the terrain and the darkness prevented some equipment from being deployed against some hot spots until the following day, county fire officials previously reported.