The fire started just before 5 p.m. in the Warm Springs Park and Preserve area. It charred at least 150 acres. The blaze was 30 to 40 percent contained as of 11 p.m. Sunday.
Officials said winds blowing 20 mph fanned the flames through very dry chaparral. About 100 firefighters, aided by five water-dropping aircraft, battled the blaze. At one point, as many as 200 homes were threatened.
"We just saw the smoke and all of a sudden the flames came up and went through that valley, and then about an hour later, it shifted. That's when it came back towards us," said Murrieta resident Chris Russo.
Russo grabbed garden hoses and sprayed the fire as it came within 50 yards of his home. Water-dropping aircraft were there quickly to take over as neighbors breathed a sigh of relief.
"They got on it right away," said Murrieta resident Gary Raymond. "Great job by the fire department. They had the tankers and the helicopters in the air."
Evacuations were not ordered, but an evacuation center was set up Vista Murrieta High School for residents who chose to leave their homes.
No injuries were reported. The cause of the fire was under investigation.