Host of fires clear San Diego-area neighborhoods

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

Host of fires clear San Diego-area neighborhoods
A Firefighter puts water on a house fence during a wildfire Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. More wildfires broke out Wednesday in San Diego County — threatening homes in Carlsbad and forcing the evacuations of military housing and an elementary school at Camp Pendleton — as Southern California is in the grip of a heat wave. (AP Photo)
A Firefighter puts water on a house fence during a wildfire Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. More wildfires broke out Wednesday in San Diego County — threatening homes in Carlsbad and forcing the evacuations of military housing and an elementary school at Camp Pendleton — as Southern California is in the grip of a heat wave. (AP Photo)
Firefighters knock out a flare up where a brush fire roared through a section of San Diego's north county, Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in San Diego. Weather conditions that at least temporarily calmed allowed firefighters to gain ground early Wednesday on a pair of wildfires that forced thousands of residents to leave their homes. (AP Photo)
A firefighter pours water onto a fully engulfed home Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. A brush fire Wednesday forced evacuation of thousands of people in the city of Carlsbad where at least two homes burned amid a Southern California heat wave that sparked several blazes. (AP Photo)
A fireman carries his shovel up a path as extreme winds bend the shrubbery behind him Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in San Diego. Winds estimated by fire personnel in excess of 50 mph are blowing through the area and causing flare ups from the fire that started yesterday. (AP Photo)
A Carlsbad,Calif. police officer turns traffic away as flames leap behind him Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Weather conditions that at least temporarily calmed allowed firefighters to gain ground early Wednesday on a pair of wildfires that forced thousands of residents to leave their homes. (AP Photo)
A fire truck send a powerful stream of water at a fully engulfed home as smoke rises from behind during a 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. (AP Photo)
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. (AP Photo)
A home is fully engulfed in flames as a wildfire burns 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. (AP Photo)
A helicopter drops a fire retardant on a wild fire Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Wind-driven flames are threatening homes in the coastal city of Carlsbad, where officials have sent mandatory evacuation notices to more than 11,000 homes and businesses. (AP Photo)
Powerful streams of water mix with billowing smoke from a home as a wildfire burns 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. (AP Photo)
A wild fire burns toward a Aviara Oaks Middle School Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Wind-driven flames are threatening homes in the coastal city of Carlsbad, where officials have sent mandatory evacuation notices to more than 11,000 homes and businesses. (AP Photo)
A wildfire climbs a canyon toward homes Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. More wildfires broke out Wednesday in San Diego County — threatening homes in Carlsbad and forcing the evacuations of military housing and an elementary school at Camp Pendleton — as Southern California is in the grip of a heat wave. (AP Photo)
Wildfire climbs a canyon toward homes Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. More wildfires broke out Wednesday in San Diego County, threatening homes in Carlsbad and forcing the evacuations of military housing and an elementary school at Camp Pendleton , as Southern California is in the grip of a heat wave. (AP Photo)
A helicopter attacks a wildfire burning in the north county of San Diego Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California's drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north. (AP Photo)
A helicopter flies over burning vegetation as it nears homes Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. More wildfires broke out Wednesday in San Diego County — threatening homes in Carlsbad and forcing the evacuations of military housing and an elementary school at Camp Pendleton — as Southern California is in the grip of a heat wave. (AP Photo)
Smoke rises as firefighters work in the brush as two fire fighting helicopters pass each other above one of the colossal homes of Fairbanks Ranch where a wild fire threatened homes Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. (Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California’s drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north. (AP Photo)
Anthony Novom waters down smoldering vegetation surrounding his home in the Rancho Santa Fe neighborhood during a wildfire Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California's drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north. (AP Photo)
A helicopter drops water on the grounds surrounding one of the luxury homes of the Fairbanks Ranch area where a wild fire threaten homes Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California’s drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north. (AP Photo)
Jack Elkins gestures as he looks at his backyard fruit trees, ravaged by wildfire Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California's drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north. (AP Photo)
Firefighters look on as a helicopter drops water on a wildfire in the Rancho Santa Fe neighborhood Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California's drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north. (AP Photo)
A helicopter drops water on a wildfire in the Rancho Santa Fe neighborhood, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California's drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north. (AP Photo)
A helicopter drops water on a wildfire in the Rancho Santa Fe neighborhood Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California's drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north. (AP Photo)
Billowing smoke rises from flames as firefighters begin the trek up the hills to battle a wild fire, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
Billowing smoke rises from flames as firefighters begin the trek up the hills to battle a wild fire, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
Smoke rises from a canyon where a wild fire is burning Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
A lone tree stands in the path of approaching flames as wild fire burns through a canyon Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
Firefighters face a huge smoke cloud as they plan their attack on a wild fire Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
A helicopter attacks a wild fire burning Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
California firefighters arrive to assist local fire personnel in a battle against a wild fire Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
Firefighters battle a wild fire in the Santa Luz area of San Diego Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
Flames grow as a wild fire burns out-of-control in the north county area of San Diego Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
Firefighters battle a wild fire in the Santa Luz area of San Diego Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
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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.

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