CARLSBAD, Calif. » At least a half-dozen wildfires scorched San Diego County on Wednesday, forcing thousands to flee burning homes and prompting the closure of a college campus and Legoland California. No major injuries were reported.
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. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries — one heat-related and one from smoke inhalation.
The worst of the fires was in the coastal city of Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego and home to Legoland. The park was closed because of a power outage caused by the fire.
The city’s schools also were closed, and officials expected they wouldn’t reopen until next week.
Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said the blaze consumed an eight-unit condominium complex, as well as damaged eight homes and two businesses. Thousands were asked to evacuate their homes.
As the flames surged, 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 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 he was worried what he might find upon returning.
"Work water, work!" he shouted, spraying down charred landscaping.
As the afternoon wore on, firefighters made progress in stopping the blaze’s spread, and 10 percent of it was contained by early evening.
But other areas in the county flared up.
Officials said many schools across the county would be closed Thursday, including San Diego Unified School District. A fire on the edge of San Diego in the community of Lakeside prompted brief evacuations in the early evening Wednesday that were called off a few hours later.
Another fire led officials to evacuate California State University, San Marcos, which has nearly 10,000 students. Yet another fire blackened 6,000 acres on the Camp Pendleton Marine base.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for San Diego County, which would free up special resources and funding for the firefight, and state fire officials were creating a central command center for the blazes.
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 Carlsbad fire broke out around 10:30 a.m. and spread through heavy brush before jumping into residential areas.
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.
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."
Meantime, firefighters gained ground on another San Diego County fire that broke out Tuesday and forced the evacuation of 20,000 homes. Authorities reported 50 percent containment of the 2.42-square-mile fire that broke out in the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego.
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 Camp Pendleton.