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Firefighters battle half dozen SoCal fires

Homes destroyed in Carlsbad, blaze springs up in Santa Paula

Posted: May 14, 2014 10:38 p.m.
Updated: May 14, 2014 10:38 p.m.

A fireman drags a hose as smoke rises from a nearby wildfire Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Carlsbad city officials said mandatory evacuations were in progress Wednesday, and more than 11,000 notices were sent to homes and businesses.

CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) — Nine wildfires covering more than 14 square miles scorched San Diego County on Wednesday, forcing thousands to flee their homes and prompting the closures of a college campus and Legoland California. No major injuries were reported.

Firefighters contended with temperatures approaching 100 degrees and gusty winds as they tried to contain flames fueled by brush and trees left brittle by drought. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries — one heat-related and one from smoke inhalation.

The biggest concern late Wednesday was in San Marcos north of San Diego, where a new blaze broke out in the late afternoon, some 21,000 evacuation notices were sent to residents and a California State University campus with nearly 10,000 students was evacuated. At least five structures there were destroyed, authorities said, but it wasn't immediately clear how many were homes.

The most destructive of the fires was in the coastal city of Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego and home to Legoland. The park was closed because of a power outage caused by the fire.

The city's schools also were closed, as most of the county's would be on Thursday, and officials expected they wouldn't reopen until next week.

Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said the blaze consumed an eight-unit condominium complex, as well as damaged eight homes and two businesses. Thousands were asked to evacuate their homes.

As the flames surged, a steady stream of residents stopped at a roadblock on a four-lane thoroughfare as they tried to return home to collect valuables.

Richard Sanchez watched nervously as a plume of black smoke rose near his home. He had left his house an hour earlier to run an errand.

"All I want to do is get there and evacuate," Sanchez said. "We have a plan, but I can't execute it."

As authorities yelled "Please evacuate!" in Joe Post's neighborhood, he grabbed a garden hose and doused a palm tree in flames between his home and his neighbor's. He debated about leaving his home, but he was worried what he might find upon returning.

"Work water, work!" he shouted, spraying down charred landscaping.

As the afternoon wore on, firefighters made progress in stopping the blaze's spread, and 10 percent of it was contained by early evening.

Other areas in the county also flared up, then calmed down by nightfall.

A fire on the edge of San Diego in the community of Lakeside prompted brief evacuations in the early evening Wednesday that were called off a few hours later.

Yet another fire blackened 6,000 acres on and around the Camp Pendleton Marine base, but a handful of evacuations were over by evening.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for San Diego County, which would free up special resources and funding for the firefight, and state fire officials were creating a central command center for the blazes.

Drought conditions have made fire danger extremely high throughout much of California. Officials have encouraged residents in fire-prone areas to prepare evacuation plans and clear brush from near their homes.

The Carlsbad fire broke out around 10:30 a.m. and spread through heavy brush before jumping into residential areas.

The wind-driven wildfire tossed embers onto roofs and trees, igniting them. Firefighters found themselves evacuating people and battling the blaze at the same time.

The city's fire chief said the blazes were unprecedented in his 27-year firefighting career because they are so early in the year.

"This is May, this is unbelievable. This is something we should see in October," Chief Michael Davis said. "I haven't seen it this hot, this dry, this long in May."

Meantime, firefighters gained ground on another San Diego County fire that broke out Tuesday and forced the evacuation of 20,000 homes. Authorities reported 50 percent containment of the 2.42-square-mile fire that broke out in the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego.

The causes of the various fires were under investigation.

One blaze spread from a burning vehicle on coastal Interstate 5 to roadside brush near the northwest corner of Camp Pendleton.

More than 120 firefighters, assisted by two water-dropping helicopters, battled a smoky blaze that broke out along Highway 126 in Santa Paula in Ventura County shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday, forcing California Highway Patrol officers to shut down the highway and escort motorists caught in the traffic backup, Ventura County Fire Department officials said.

The fire burned on the shoulder of Highway 126 near Briggs Road, prompting the CHP to shut down all lanes. Later, officials reopened the car pool lanes.

“We had a lot of black smoke on the highway as well as some downed power lines across the lanes that we had to deal with,” Ventura County fire spokesman Capt. Mark Lindbery said.

Fire had blackened about 23 acres and was about 75 percent contained by Wednesday evening. No structures were lost and no injuries were reported, Lindbery said.

“It’s not completely out yet. We’re still mopping up out there,” Lindbery said at about 7 p.m.

Ventura County firefighters were helped by firefighters from Ventura and Santa Paula city fire departments, as well as two Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopters, Lindbery added.



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