Some California wildfire evacuees return home as weather shifts

SAN DIEGO Fri May 16, 2014 7:18pm EDT

1 of 14. Fire crews battle the Cocos Fire in San Marcos, California, May 15, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Sam Hodgson

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SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Several thousand suburban San Diego residents forced to flee a wildfire threatening their community were allowed to return home on Friday as firefighters gained ground against a swarm of blazes burning in and around California's second-largest city.

The conflagrations, which marked an intense, early start to California's wildfire season, have scorched more than 30 square miles or nearly 20,000 acres of drought-parched brush this week across San Diego County, leaving dozens of homes damaged or destroyed.

A burned human corpse was found Thursday at a homeless encampment overrun by flames in the coastal town of Carlsbad, although officials said they had yet to confirm whether the individual was killed by the fire.

Two teenagers were arrested on Thursday on suspicion of setting two small fires that bystanders quickly extinguished. But police said they had no immediate reason to link the youths to any of nearly a dozen larger brush fires that raged throughout the county this week.

By morning, fire crews had managed to carve containment lines around 10 percent of the fiercest of the blazes, which has blackened some 3,000 acres since erupting on Wednesday near the town of San Marcos, north of San Diego, fire officials said.

The latest containment figure was double the 5 percent reported on Thursday amidst an unseasonable mix of record triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and hot, dry Santa Ana winds blowing in from the desert. (See graphic: link.reuters.com/jaw78v)

"We haven't seen this in 25 years, where we're fighting wind-driven fires in May," said Mike Mohler, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Firefighters benefited from a break in the weather, as Santa Ana winds gave way to a cooler, moister and calmer flow of air from the coast, officials said. A further cooling trend forecast for the weekend was expected to help tame the blazes.

A U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman said fire crews had gained "a pretty good handle" on most of the fires, which forced as many as 125,000 people from their homes during the week.

One of the most damaging of those fires, in Carlsbad, was 85 percent contained on Friday. But it left property losses estimated at up to $15 million, including eight houses gutted, an 18-unit apartment building destroyed and an adjoining apartment house heavily damaged, city officials said.

Three more houses were confirmed as destroyed in San Marcos, where evacuation orders were lifted Friday for some 4,600 people in two neighborhoods but remained in effect for the bulk of homes threatened by that blaze, officials said.

Authorities were investigating how so many fires started about the same time and whether any were intentionally set.

"We all have suspicions, like the public does, when you have ... fires that started all over the county," San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said.

A series of four fires at Camp Pendleton Marine Base north of San Diego prompted evacuations of several outposts within the installation and led commanders to send non-essential personnel home on Friday.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bernard Orr)

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Comments (3)
MiltinSB wrote:
Once again, I think it’s sensationalizing to write ‘flee’ in the headline. In almost all cases the evacuation is planned and orderly. Please consider using the word ‘evacuate’ instead … much more accurate depiction of what’s happening.

May 15, 2014 11:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
carlmartel wrote:
125,000 evacuate as the fire season starts. The drought continues from Texas and Oklahoma to California with 35% of normal rainfall in Texas and area lake levels over 9 feet below normal, so water prices will rise. Fruit, vegetable, and beef prices rise, and trains in the northern plains haul mostly oil and little grains that raise prices for chickens, eggs, pork, bacon, ham, breads, and cereals.

Also, the ACA needs $1260 minimum (penalty) per person per year or $400 billion or 2.5% of US GDP. The US must grow at more than 2.5% or have 0% to negative GDP growth.

Oil prices rise with conflicts in Africa and the Middle East and with the US/NATO/EU dispute with Russia over Ukraine. Russia and its SCO ally, China, refine Russian oil to compete with the US for refined oil products. The US imports higher volumes of oil, refines it and sells higher dollar amounts of refined oil products for a $100 billion favorable balance of trade in oil. Russia starts with its own crude, refines it and pays China to refine it. Shorter Russian tanker distances from Siberia and China to the Far East and south Pacific and from the Black Sea to Africa and India let Russia take $100 billion by greatly undercutting US sales. Russia gains $100 billion, and the US trade deficit goes from $500 billion to $600 billion. To put the icing on the Ukraine dispute, China will use some of its $3.726 trillion in foreign currency reserves to outbid the US for Ukraine’s grain, so the US will gain nothing but costs and losses of refined oil sales that will never return.

Lastly, US 1st quarter 2014 GDP growth was 0.1%; the EU had -0.2%; Russia had 0.8%; and China had 7.4%. The EU is the biggest trade partner for the US, Russia, and China, but the US can least afford the drop in trade from the EU. Firefighting costs, ACA costs, food price rises, reduced EU trade, and the loss of US refined oil sales will likely force the US into recession in 2014.

May 16, 2014 3:46pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
OfaLaniSD wrote:
To MiltinSB, I’m not sure where you are, but I am here in North San Diego County where over 2,000 firefighters are battling, people are losing their homes and businesses, someone lost their life, thousands are displaced, there are serious injuries, and people are sick from the ash and smoke that’s thick in the air. Out of all that is going on here in San Diego County, all you can say is that the word “flee” is inaccurate? You know this because… you are here? Didn’t think so. Wow. I hate to break it to you, but there absolutely was and is “fleeing” happening as the fires move fast, often changing direction with the unpredictable nature of the winds, especially on Wednesday and Thursday. There was very little that was orderly about many of the evacuations as fires raged through hills and towards neighborhoods, faster than anticipated, more furious than you can imagine. It’s absolutely an accurate statement to use the word “flee”, I have seen “fleeing” with my own eyes as a disaster responder. How sad that your only concern here is about word usage regarding something you are not experiencing yourself, nor have seen with your own eyes. Have some compassion. Do something helpful. I hope nothing this disastrous ever happens to you as you wouldn’t deserve the compassion that most would show to you.

May 16, 2014 10:16pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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