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Host of fires clear San Diego-area neighborhoods

By Elliot Spagat and Julie Watson
May. 15, 2014 5:34 AM EDT

SAN MARCOS, Calif. (AP) - Tuzo Jerger was one of thousands told to evacuate as a wildfire ripped across Carlsbad, a suburb north of San Diego. The 66-year-old real estate broker packed files, a surfboard, golf clubs, clothes and photos and sought solace at a friend's hilltop house in nearby San Marcos, only to see another fierce wildfire break out there and force thousands from their homes.

"I thought, 'Oh my God, it's going to come this way,'" Jerger said at a San Marcos restaurant where he found relief in a slice of pizza.

Such was the state of San Diego County, where one wildfire after another broke out Wednesday, driving tens of thousands from homes, shutting down schools and amusement parks and destroying at least eight houses and a condominium complex.

Nine fires in all were burning an area of more than 14 square miles as another day of sky-high temperatures and dry winds were expected Thursday, county officials said.

The biggest concern was in San Marcos, where the 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 in the middle of final exams was shut down at least through Thursday. At least five structures there were destroyed, authorities said, but it wasn't immediately clear how many were homes.

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.

The most destructive of the fires so far 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 including San Diego Unified, 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.

By late Wednesday firefighters had the blaze 10 percent contained and some of the thousands of residents were told they could return.

About 200 residents of San Marcos gathered at an evacuation center in a high school in San Marcos, many from a mobile home park for senior citizens.

Alma Whisenhut, 80, packed clothing and papers for about 20 minutes after police told her and her husband to leave the mobile home park. The couple saw fast-moving flames two ridges away as they left.

"It was scary because there was so much smoke," she said.

Other areas in the county also flared up, though most calmed quickly, including two fires in the far north of the county near Camp Pendleton that together burned nearly 7,000 acres and prompted evacuations that lasted just a few hours.

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 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."

Police and fire agencies said at the news conference that they were gathering evidence on the cause of the fires, but no conclusions had yet been reached.

Join the discussion

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ronbobel7 May 15 2014 at 8:52 AM

if they dont have insurance they shouldnt get bailed out. why do they keep builiding in areas where there shouldnt be houses?

Flag Reply +4 rate up
7 replies
Rachel May 15 2014 at 1:49 PM

Great, there goes the rest of our water..just let it burn..

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
tmybaby44 Rachel May 15 2014 at 1:58 PM

If this were your home would you say let it burn? Your a disgrace

Flag Reply +7 rate up
2 replies
Rachel tmybaby44 May 15 2014 at 5:29 PM

Who cares!

Flag 0 rate up
knarfdr tmybaby44 May 16 2014 at 12:16 AM

She's an uncaring moron, most likely a lib.

Flag 0 rate up
Tom May 15 2014 at 2:09 PM

Same story just a different day

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Tuhloola11 May 15 2014 at 2:33 PM

Can't wait to hear what you climate deniers say about this. Go ahead....explain it away, with whatever idiocracy you've been fed by the righties !

Flag Reply +2 rate up
4 replies
Olguita May 15 2014 at 3:06 PM

Just read and listen to all of you, I just don't understand humanity. This is not a joke these fires are serious. We have elderlies suffering, children not going to their homes, pets the list goes on. Men and women putting their lives on the line to keep us safe here in San Diego. This has nothing to do with politics, one person says an idiotic thing like there goes the rest of the water "Rachel" let it burn. How dare you! Gordon 47 not everyone has the money to make those improvements. You are callous, you all make me sick.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
loriann1952 May 15 2014 at 5:11 PM

The State of California and the EPA are solely responsible for all the fires that occur in that state and all the lives those fires take and all the lives theat are ruined. All they have to do is have MANDATORY BURNS and this would NOT be happening..Why aren't you citizens of California SCREAMING at the top of your lungs at the Governor and all your representatives that you elected to C H A N G E the Law, YESTERDAY !!!!! How many more are going to die before you make those IDIOTS change the law????????

Flag Reply +1 rate up
steve May 15 2014 at 11:12 PM

How many residents sat on their butts and watch things burn, instead watering down their areas and some, turn on the sprinklers, cut away nearby brush. Meanwhile have all vehicles loaded with valuables, clothing and important paper and pictures and head down hill.

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phpoling May 15 2014 at 11:53 PM

So sorry for people who had only between five to 20 minutes to get out with only clothes on your back, important papers, and your pets.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
sdglo May 16 2014 at 12:21 AM

I live in one of the areas burning in San Diego and cannot believe the ignorant comments on this story.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
bigred8690 May 16 2014 at 12:38 AM

I have heard the firefighters are stretched thin and overworked. They are exhausted. Where's the California National Guard?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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