SAN DIEGO, California, October 22, 2007 (ENS) - A dozen wildfires raging out of control from Los Angeles to Mexico have devoured homes and business and have turned hundreds of thousands of residents into evacuees.
The San Diego area is ringed with fires fanned by Santa Ana winds gusting to 60 miles per hour.
The National Weather Service says the fire-prone weather will get worse before it gets better. A "red flag warning" is in effect for all of extreme southwestern California through Wednesday afternoon for gusty northeast to east winds and low humidity.
An upper level high pressure system located off the Northern California Coast combined with surface high pressure over the Great Basin will continue to bring hot, dry and strong Santa Ana conditions with explosive fire growth potential to the coast through Tuesday, the National Weather Service says.
Winds are forecast to slowly diminish Tuesday night and a slow cooling will begin Thursday with cooling expected on the weekend.
The Harris Fire, which began around 9:30 am Sunday east of Harris Ranch Road and north of state Route 94, has now charred over 20,000 acres.
Fire looms over San Diego, looking east to San Marcos (Photo by Tom Harnish)
San Diego County emergency officials say, "Mapping and accuracy of acres is difficult due to rapid rate of fire spread. There is 0% containment and the fire’s spread is moving westerly towards Otay Lake. Firefighters are focusing all efforts on protection of life, property, and firefighter safety."
San Diego Gas and Electric's Southwest major transmission line remains shut down. SDG&E says the line, known as the Southwest Powerlink, was taken out of service on Sunday afternoon for safety reasons, because the fire was threatening the line. "We currently are cleaning the transmission line of contaminants from the fire, and we expect it to be back in service tomorrow morning," the utility said
At this time there are 30,000 customers affected by 71 power outages due to the fire in locations scattered throughout the county.
"With the unpredictable nature of the fire, we do not have an estimate of time of restoration, the utility said. "We ask the public for their patience and cooperation with outages, some of which are necessary to ensure the safety of fire personnel. We will be out there as long as the fires continue to burn."
All available SDG&E crews are in the field, working closely with fire personnel to ensure the safety of the public and of firefighters. The company says it has called for assistance from several other utilities in the Western region.
Fire officials say all airtankers and helicopters are currently flying, including a DC-10 supertanker from CAL FIRE.
Citizens along the fire's edge are requested to stay away from any area that has helicopters or airtankers dropping retardant or water. The aircraft are trying to protect structures and have to be very cautious when people are on the ground nearby.
"Damage Assessment Teams have been ordered. We should get better numbers on number of homes damaged or destroyed once they are deployed," said the San Diego County Emergency Management Office.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last night proclaimed a state of emergency in seven counties. The proclamation will release state funds to ensure that adequate financial resources are available to rapidly attack the fires and reimburse critical emergency response costs, the governor said.
Late last night, fire officials evacuated the entire town of Ramona, a community of 36,000 located about 35 miles northeast of San Diego as flames raced across the Witch Creek Area east of Ramona.
Area roads were jammed as Ramona residents fled the Witch fire as it shot flames more than 100 feet into the air and crackled across 12,000 acres.
An evacuation order came later for San Pasqual Valley between Ramona and parts of Escondido to the northwest. Communities north and south of Ramona were evacuated earlier.
The fire is spreading to the west and south. The fire has crossed I-15 at Lake Hodges heading southwest to the communities of Carmel Mountain Ranch, Mira Mesa, and 4-S Ranch and south toward Peutz Valley, Harbison Canyon, and the western part of Alpine.
San Diego County officials say 50 homes have been destroyed in the Poway to the southwest of Ramona, 70 homes have been destroyed in Escondido, six homes have been burned in Rancho Santa Fe, and an unknown number of structures destroyed in Rancho Bernardo.
Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in Poway from Rattlesnake Creek to the south, Midland Road to the west, the San Diego Aqueduct to the east, and Lake Poway Road to the north.
Evacuation points are being established at Mount Carmel High School at 9550 Carmel Mountain Road and Poway Community Park at 13094 Civic Center Drive.
Fire officials say the head of the fire is burning in the same path as the Cedar Fire in 2003.
Evacuations have been ordered for San Diego's Scripps Ranch area, which was badly damaged by the 2003 fire.
Evacuees leaving Escondido can travel to the west to take shelter at Mission Hills Church at 400 Mission Hills Court in San Marcos. Evacuees are advised that all major westbound city streets are open west of I-15 at this point.
But evacuees are advised that I-15 is closed northbound and southbound from Highway 78 to Highway 56.
Fire advances on San Diego homes (Photo by Tom Harnish)
Evacuation centers have been set up for military and Department of Defense personnel on Naval Base San Diego at the Admiral Prout Field House, as well as Naval Base Coronado. Families with pets are encouraged to report to the Admiral Prout Field House. The Murphy Canyon Chapel is operating as a family information center. The chapel can be reached at 619-556-0603. Military families can call 619-556-9399 for more information.
CAL FIRE reports that the Rice Fire in Rice Canyon, North San Diego County has crossed I-15 and Hwy 395. Numerous structures have been destroyed in Fallbrook and the entire town of Fallbrook is now being evacuated.
The Rice fire is currently estimated at 300 acres and is 0% contained. High winds blowing harder than 40 miles per hour are hampering suppression efforts. The Rice fire started at 4:15 this morning and the cause is under investigation.
South of San Diego, the city of Chula Vista has requested residents who live in the following areas to voluntarily evacuate - Rolling Hills, San Miguel, East Lake Woods, Bella Lago. This is precautionary and is suggested due to unpredictable fire predictions.
Evacuations are beginning in a large area of Valley Center, near the Bear Valley area. Valley Center High School is the evacuation center. Residents in Valley Center should pay close attention to news reports because of the serious fire threats.
Fires are still breaking out in the San Diego area. The Coronado Hills Fire south of Cal State San Marcos started today has burned 300 acres. Structures were lost in Discovery Hills and San Marcos, but firefighters now have this fire 100 percent contained.
The County Board of Education has ordered all San Diego County public schools to be closed on Tuesday.
All classes at the University of San Diego are cancelled through Tuesday due to extremely poor air quality caused by regional wildfires, which are still uncontained. Classes are canceled for Tuesday, and non-essential employees are encouraged to stay home. At this point, no evacuation is necessary.
University administrators say they will continue to monitor this changing situation and, should the need arise, be prepared to evacuate the campus to ensure the health and safety of resident students.
The university is developing a list of names and contact information of current students, families of current students and alumni able to provide temporary housing for students and other members of the campus community who have been displaced or in the event of a campus evacuation. If you can provide such space, please e-mail email@example.com with your name, contact information and space availability.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors’ regular meeting scheduled for Tuesday is cancelled. Agenda items will be carried over to the next scheduled meeting on Wednesday, October 24.
All residents who wish to volunteer their time are advised to call Volunteer San Diego at (858) 636-4131 or sign up to volunteer online at www.VolunteerSanDiego.org.
All residents who wish to donate emergency supplies and personal necessities are advised to call Goodwill Industries at (888) 446-6394 to find their local Goodwill drop-off site.
Farther north in Los Angeles County the Buckweed Fire in the Mint Canyon Road area at Sierra Highway has burned 35,500 acres and is uncontained. The fire started Saturday and is burning toward Magic Mountain. Mandatory evacuation for 15,000 residents remains in effect.
The communities of Santa Clarita, Leona Valley, Green Valley, Acton, Agua Dulce, Mint Canyon are threatened.
Fifteen homes have been destroyed and three homes have been damaged. Three civilians and one firefighter have been injured. At least 925 firefighters are battling the blaze.
More fires are breaking out across the area. The Magic Fire at Old Cross Road and Magic Mountain Parkway in Los Angeles County started at 2:15 this afternoon and has already burned across 500 acres, threatening multiple structures.
The Ranch Fire in Angeles National Forest (Photo by Stanton Florea)
National forests are not immune to the fires sweeping the area. The Ranch Fire in the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County has burned 41,000 acres since October 20 and is 10 percent contained.
As a result of extreme fire activity, and to protect public health and safety, Angeles National Forest officials are implementing a forest closure, effective Tuesday. The closure will last until the extreme conditions subside.
While the closure is in effect, going into or being upon National Forest System lands, roads, or trails within the Angeles National Forest is not allowed.
Individuals or organizations holding special use permits for sanctioned activities within the Forest are exempt from this order.
Evacuations continue in Chiquito Canyon, Hasley Canyon, Val Verde, Hopper Canyon and toward Filmore. Three homes and four outbuildings have been destroyed, and 500 residences, 50 commercial properties and 50 outbuildings are threatened. There are 767 firefighters assigned to this incident.
In upscale Malibu Canyon, populated by celebrities and entertainers, the Canyon Fire has burned 3,800 acres and is just eight percent contained. This fire started Saturday and is burning in Malibu Canyon south of Pacific Coast Highway where 500 homes have been evacuated. Three injuries have been reported.
Hundreds of Malibu residences and commercial buildings are threatened, while 1,750 firefighters work to contain the flames.
Both mandatory and voluntary evacuations are in effect for various parts of the Malibu area. Call the Canyon Fire Information Line at 323-881-2411 to find out more.
In Orange County, the Santiago Fire has burned 15,200 acres in the area of Santiago Canyon Road at Silverado Canyon Road in Irvine and is now 30 percent contained.
Two thousand residences in Foothill Ranch are threatened, two damaged, and one destroyed and several area roads are closed. One injury has been reported. Call the Santiago Fire Information Line to find out more at 714-573-6200.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.