Wind-driven flames drive thousands from California homes

Brushfires fanned by hot, dry winds kept firefighters busy across Southern California on Wednesday and prompted thousands of people to flee homes, schools and businesses in San Diego County.

Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said a fast-growing fire at Carlsbad north of San Diego grew had consumed more than 250 acres and was burning out of control, prompting evacuation orders for an estimated 11,000 people.

It was one of many brushfires that errupted as Southern California temperatures soared to 100 degrees or more. Firefighters said winds, with gusts of up to 50 mph, sent embers flying a half mile ahead of the fires themselves, igniting more brush and structures.

More than half a dozen serious fires broke out in San Diego County, whipped by the Santa Ana wind system that reverses the normal flow of wind from the Pacific Ocean and creates tinderbox fire conditions.

KCAL-TV aired helicopter footage of another fire burning unchecked alongside Interstate-405 near the intersection with state highway118 in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. The fire sent flames and towers of black smoke across the freeway as cars continued to pass by before the arrival of firefighter.

The fire was contained, but evening commuters faced long backups.

To the south in San Diego County, California State University-San Marcos evacuated its campus. The Legoland California Resort amusement park near Carlsbad was evacuated after fire knocked out power lines, resport spokeswoman Julie Estrada said.

The Carlsbad fire spread to homes after starting shortly before 11 a.m. and grew rapidly, Winds were 25 mph, the temperature was 100 degrees and relative humidity only 3%, extremely low, according to the National Weather Service.

Mohler, of the state firefighting agency Cal Fire, told KCAL-TV as many as 30 structures had burned, and the station later reported 16 of them were homes.

Moehler said Legoland was not under immediate threat but is near the fire area. Two elementary schools and a middle school were evacuated.

TV news video from the Carlsbad area fire showed homes engulfed in flames and other neighbors struggling to protect their property.

Fires at Camp Pendleton, the large Marine Corps base on the coast in northern San Diego County, prompted a large firefighter response and evacuation of some base housing. Neighboring Orange County sent a stike team with five engines and two helicopters to battle the blaze near its southern border with San Diego County.

A red flag warning indicating extreme fire conditions was scheduled to be lifted at 8 p.m., and forecasters said winds should be easing by late afternoon, a potential break for firefighters.

But the weather was forecast to remain hot, following a record-setting scorcher Wednesday.

Temperatures topped 100 from north of Los Angeles to San Diego at the border with Mexico. Even beach areas normally cooled by the Pacific breezes saw high temperatures -- 101 at Long Beach and 99 at Laguna Beach.

An afternoon brushfire at an exit ramp prompted the closing in both directions of the 91 Freeway through Anaheim. The fire was contained and the freeway reopened.

A fire that broke out Tuesday in San Diego was 25% contained Wednesday after consuming 1,548 acres, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for Cal Fire, also known as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Scores of smaller brush fires were reported all over the region.

Another fire that started Tuesday in Santa Barbara County was 50% contained after burning 600 acres, Cal Fire reported.

The Carlsbad fire resulted in more than 11,000 homes, businesses and cellphones being warned to evacuate, the San Diego County sheriff's office said.

At Camp Pendleton, home to about 42,000 military personnel, employees of a naval weapons station, residents of base housing development and an elementary school were told to evacuate. Marine Sgt. Irons told USA TODAY the Pendleton evacuation effort included residents of DeLuz base housing, personnel at Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook and students and staff at Mary Fay Pendleton Elementary School.

The website for Mary Fay Pendleton School contained the message that the school "is currently being evacuated. We are encouraging parents to NOT pick up their students at the school. Children at MFP will be evacuated to Paige Fieldhouse on base. Parent calls are being sent now."

The DeLuz compound includes more than 400 homes. The development's website claims to "mark a new approach to military housing. Our community breaks away from the simple housing tracts of the past and embraces the modern lifestyles of family living."


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