CARLSBAD (AP) — Flames engulfed suburban homes and shot up along canyon ridges in the worst of a half-dozen blazes that broke out Wednesday in Southern California during a second day of a sweltering heat wave.
Thick black smoke darkened blue skies over the Pacific coast city of Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego, known for its Legoland California amusement park. The park was closed Wednesday because of a power outage caused by the fire.
Over the past two days, at least six wildfires scattered within about 10 to 20 miles of each other have broken out in northern San Diego County.
Canyons were ablaze with walls of flames racing between ridge-top homes and freeways. At least two firefighters suffered minor injuries — one heat-related and one from smoke inhalation.
Thousands were asked to evacuate their homes — including in Carlsbad — after the blaze erupted about 10:34 a.m. Wednesday and spread through rapidly heavy brush before jumping into residential areas.
Despite a state fire report of 30 homes burned earlier in the day, Carlsbad Fire Chief Michael Davis said he knows of just three homes destroyed and about a dozen damaged, all of them in the same neighborhood.
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, Nick Schuler of Cal Fire said.
The fire’s forward spread had been stopped, but hotspots remain, he said. More than 50 engines were coming in from around the state to help.
“There’s days of work to be done” before the fire is doused, Davis said, adding that “this fire’s fingered in all locations.”
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 in sandals 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 Carlsbad 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 was worried what he might find upon returning.
“Work water work!” he shouted, spraying down charred landscaping near his home.
The scattered fires prompted schools to be evacuated in at least three communities, including the campus of California State University in San Marcos, where fires scorched a hillside behind the school that has nearly 10,000 students.
Some schools were expected to remain closed for the week.
Another fire was chewing up 600 acres 20 miles to the north of the university near Fallbrook, forcing the shutdown of a stretch of Interstate 15.
On the nearby Marine Corps base of Camp Pendleton, which borders Fallbrook, a separate 1,000-acre blaze led to residents in military housing also being asked to leave.
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 Pendleton.
Authorities reported 50 percent containment of a 2.42-square-mile fire that broke out Tuesday and forced thousands of people to flee the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego. In Santa Barbara County, a 600-acre blaze near Lompoc was 50 percent contained.
Evacuation orders were lifted for all of the more than 20,000 residents in and around San Diego on Tuesday night just a few hours after they were called, and all but a handful of those in 1,200 homes and businesses told to evacuate in Santa Barbara County had been allowed to return.
Triple-digit temperatures and the drought were setting conditions for an unusually busy firefighting season, state fire officials said.