San Diego Fires Update: Blazes in San Marcos, Camp Pendleton prompt evacuations

Two firefighters discuss a strategy change while fighting a wildfire from the backyard of a home Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that have charred thousands of acres and burned homes.
Two firefighters discuss a strategy change while fighting a wildfire from the backyard of a home Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that have charred thousands of acres and burned homes.

Fire updates

San Diego firefighters continue to battle a slew of wildfires that have broken out since Wednesday. At least nine fires have been burning in the county, destroying eight houses, an 18-unit condominium complex and two businesses, according to the Associated Press, and burning more than 15 square miles. The fires have prompted California Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in the county. The Associated Press says more the damage has topped $20 million so far. 

Here's a run down of several of the fastest-moving fires: 

Cocos Fire

Update: 4:20 p.m.: 3 homes burned, 3 injuries in Cocos Fire

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacobs said three homes had been lost in the Coronado Hills area. She cautioned that although winds had died down, the county was still on high alert: "We're not out of the woods yet. We still have a fire danger, a red flag warning." She said wind speeds in the northeast county were 20-25 miles per hour, warning that any spark could ignite a blaze.

The Cocos fire had burned 1,200 acres and was 5 percent contained. Three injuries had been reported. The San Diego Sheriff's Department had issued 5,400 additional evacuation orders in the Harmony Grove and Del Dios areas.

A time-lapse video posted on YouTube by Stone Brewing Company shows the proximity of their Escondido facility to the Cocos fire in San Marcos just after noon Thursday.

The San Marcos wildfire continues to threaten more homes as firefighters try to get a handle on the flames, and a flare-up Thursday afternoon prompted the San Diego County sheriff to issue 13,000 new evacuation notices, the Associated Press reported.

The fire is currently the most dangerous of nine wildfires that have erupted in the county this week. The fire has grown to 1,000 acres and is only 5 percent contained, according to the Associated Press.

Sheriff Bill Gore said the notifications transmitted to phone numbers in the area are due to a Thursday afternoon flare-up and erratic winds, according to the AP.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Dave Allen says the fire's unpredictable behavior is a major concern.

"The San Marcos incident is fuel and topography driven," Allen said. "It's creating its own weather pattern there as it sucks oxygen in to continue to burn. So the direction in which the fire is going to ultimately go, it could be on either side of the fire."

The fire began Thursday afternoon, burning close to homes as new winds arrived, according to the Associated Press: 

The flare-up near the state university city of San Marcos occurred after a half-day lull in winds that firefighters had seized as an opportunity to make progress against flames that have scorched thousands of acres.

State fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser said the fire was running east along hillsides behind California State University San Marcos.

The flare-up appeared to involve a change in wind direction. On previous days there was offshore flow —€” generally from the northeast. But Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service reported winds out of the northwest.

Tomahawk Fire

Pulgas Fire

Update: 5:30 p.m.: Evacuations ordered for 2 fires burning near Camp Pendleton 

Authorities issued  additional evacuation orders in Fallbrook just north of Camp Pendleton. The San Diego Sheriff's Department called 380 homes, businesses and cell phones just before 4 p.m. after the fire had crossed the containment line.

Another fire nearby at Camp Las Pulgas had grown to 500 acres by Thursday afternoon. Evacuations were also ordered for Camp Las Pulgas and Camp Margarita.

Below is a photo of the evacuation at Camp Las Pulgas.



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

According to the AP:

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 were gathering evidence on the cause of the fires, but no conclusions had yet been reached.


San Diego Fire

San Diego Fire: 7:15 p.m.: Burned body found, evacuation orders lifted

Officials lifted all evacuation orders related to the San Diego fire, and residents have been allowed to enter their homes.

A badly burned body was found during a hot spot check in Carlsbad Thursday evening, after officials were notified of a transient encampment in the area of the San Diego fire. No other injuries were reported.

San Diego Fire: Crews gain on fire that broke out Thursday

Over in Carlsbad, firefighters are getting a better handle on the San Diego Fire (previously called the Poinsettia Fire). It's now 75 percent contained — and remains at 400 acres. That fire has destroyed multiple homes, KPCC reported.

Fires began erupting Tuesday amid high heat, extremely low humidity and gusty Santa Ana winds. the Associated Press reported. By Wednesday, nine fires were burning:

Asked about the possibility of arson, county Sheriff Bill Gore said earlier Thursday that he wouldn't prejudge the investigations. He noted that sparks from vehicles can easily ignite brush in such dry conditions.

Emergency officials said a significant number of firefighting aircraft had become available, including four air tankers and 22 military helicopters.

Ten of the military helicopters were being used to battle a blaze that grew to 9.37 square miles on the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton. Despite its growth, the fire was 20 percent contained and was no longer considered a threat to communities.

Twelve other military helicopters were available to the county, where the biggest concern was a 1.25-square-mile blaze at the city of San Marcos. That fire was 5 percent contained and thousands of people remained evacuated, but officials told a news conference they were beginning to assess repopulating areas.

The wildfires drove tens of thousands from their homes and shut down schools and amusement parks, including Legoland. The amusement park reopened Thursday.

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.

Extremely high temperatures were occurring again Thursday, ranging in the high 90s to 100 in the northwestern area of the county where the fires burned.

The heat was so intense that records continued to be broken in Southern California and horse racing was canceled at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, east of Los Angeles.

Officials said a Carlsbad area blaze was 60 percent contained and had burned 400 acres. The wildfire destroyed an 18-unit condominium complex and four residences, Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said.

Some evacuation orders were being lifted in Carlsbad but a major power outage and hotspots were still a concern.

Efforts were focusing on San Marcos, a university city where hundreds of new evacuation orders were issued on Thursday. More than 20,000 evacuation notices were sent to residents Wednesday and a California State University campus with nearly 10,000 students in the middle of final exams was shut down at least through Thursday.

San Diego County officials said that the blaze had destroyed three homes.

Tuzo Jerger was one of thousands told to evacuate because of the Carlsbad fire. 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.

The blaze in the coastal city of Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego, was the most destructive of the fires so far.

Many schools across the county were closed Thursday including San Diego Unified. Officials expected some wouldn't reopen until next week.

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 11 square miles and prompted evacuations that lasted just a few hours.

This story has been updated.