35,000 Homes Evacuated|From SoCal Wildfires

     
     SAN DIEGO (CN) – More than 35,000 homes have been evacuated in San Diego County and firefighters on Thursday turned their attention to the Cocos Fire, burning in the hills above Cal State San Marcos, which also has been evacuated. The San Diego County sheriff told a local TV station that all but one of the 10 fires are considered suspicious.
     No one has been killed by the fires, which have struck the band of wealthy communities north of the city of San Diego. More than 600,000 people live in the bedroom communities set in tinder-dry hills.
     With temperatures near 100 degrees even near the coast, and Santa Ana winds still blowing, though somewhat lessened, firefighters face extremely difficult conditions.
     Twenty-one thousand homes were ordered evacuated in and around San Marcos, a city of 81,000, where the Cocos Fire was less than 5 percent contained Thursday afternoon. Three structures were destroyed and others damaged by the fire, which had burned 800 acres by 2 p.m.
     On Wednesday the most damage was done by the Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad, a city of 98,500 southwest of San Marcos. That fire was reported to be 60 percent contained Thursday afternoon. Fifteen thousand homes were ordered evacuated from that blaze, which consumed an 18-unit apartment complex Wednesday.
     Two hospitals in San Marcos were closed Thursday. Highways throughout the region were jammed, some closed, some clogged with people fleeing the evacuated areas.
     Farther north, in Fallbrook, a city of 31,000 on the Riverside County line, the Highway Fire has burned 600 acres.
     San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore told Channel 10 News, an ABC station, that all but one of the 10 fires are considered suspicious. The sheriff said he has assigned 120 deputies to protect evacuated homes.
     This is an update. Here is the situation as it was early Thursday morning.
     Thousands of people and at least seven schools were evacuated Wednesday as eight wildfires burned more than 9,000 acres in San Diego County, seven of them in North County.
     Fueled by 100-degree temperature and gusting Santa Ana winds, the most damaging fire, in Carlsbad, destroyed at least eight homes. Other fires forced evacuations in Oceanside, San Marcos, Bonsall, Camp Pendleton and Lakeside. Billowing smoke from two fires on Camp Pendleton could be seen towering over the Santa Ana Mountains from Riverside County.
     Damage was estimated at more than $20 million in Carlsbad alone. That fire, known as the Poinsettia Fire, burned 400 acres and was 50 percent contained as night fell.
     Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in San Diego County, directing state workers to the area, and applying to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help underwrite firefighting costs.
     Other wildfires were burning as far north as Ventura County and as far south as Ensenada, Mexico.
     Schools in at least 30 public school districts will be closed today, including Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, San Diego Unified, Valley Center, Encinitas, Coronado, Poway, Vista and Fallbrook. All schools in Carlsbad Unified School District will be closed for the rest of the week.
     Cal State San Marcos canceled classes and postponed final exams scheduled for Thursday. The college also canceled graduation ceremonies scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Palomar College also was evacuated, as were more than 20,000 residents.
     The fires caused massive traffic jams on Interstates 5 and 15.
     Electricity was cut to several communities in eastern San Diego County. San Diego Gas and Electric said it turned off power to some lines because the high winds threatened to break them and start new fires. SDG&E power lines were believed to have played a major part in the catastrophic wildfires of 2007.
     California is suffering a major drought. A week of hot Santa Ana winds dried out hillsides two weeks ago. The succeeding week brought cooler temperatures, in the 80s, but no rain. The renewed Santa Anas this week set off an early fire season, which generally begins in the fall.
     County officials asked residents to stay off the roads. Carlsbad Fire Chief Michael Davis said arson has not been ruled out. “Each fire will be treated as a crime scene until it’s proven to be accidental,” Davis told KPBS radio.
     Six thousand acres burned on Camp Pendleton, where schools and military housing were evacuated.

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