Nine wildfires spring up around San Diego, more than 9,000 acres burned

Photo provided by CNN
Thursday, May 15, 2014 - 8:00am

San Diego County is hoping for a break Thursday, a day after wildfires ravaged the landscape, threatening homes, universities, a military base and a nuclear power plant.

"Let's hope for a calm day," said County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who marveled at the outbreak that saw San Diego go from one wildfire to nine, charring more than 9,000 acres.

Firefighters deployed across the county, jumping on every hotspot that flared up.

"It's been a pretty amazing day," Jacob said Wednesday evening. "Everyone needs to be on high alert."

Temperatures cooled overnight and the winds calmed, giving the crews fighting the flames a bit of a break.

Additional air tankers and firefighting helicopters will join the effort Thursday, according to Jacob. She said she's certain more fires will spring up with the new day, but was praying they wouldn't.

The region is bone dry after months of little rainfall and temperatures are brutally hot, especially for May. Wildfire season typically peaks over the summer and into the fall.

"The common theme statewide this year is unprecedented number of fires and fire activity across the state, in many cases two to three months earlier than normal," Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told CNN's "New Day."

Thursday will be the hottest day of the week, according to the National Weather Service, with forecast highs between 98 and 106.

Getting the word out

Alert San Diego, a countywide notification system, sent out nearly 122,000 emergency telephone notifications on Wednesday as the wildfires sprang up.

Carlsbad alone issued 23,000 evacuation notices.

Carlsbad Fire Chief Michael Davis said that as of Thursday, the Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad has burned 400 acres and is 60% contained. Four homes and 18 units of an apartment building were destroyed by the fire, he said.

Thousands of students won't have classes on Thursday due to the continuing threat; California State University-San Marcos canceled all activities through Friday, including commencement. Students in the San Diego Unified School District will also get a break from the books.

Numerous roads have been shut down while others have become clogged with people trying to escape.

Christina Echols of Oceanside hasn't been told to leave -- yet. But with her home sitting "in the middle of three fires" and a little over 7 miles from the San Onofre nuclear power plant, she knows that call could come at any moment.

"I am afraid of the fires right now," Echols told CNN's Erin Burnett.

She has plenty of company. Zeb Navarro, a CNN iReporter, said students at Palomar College are on pins and needles.

Their concern isn't so much with how the blazes are impacting finals at the San Marcos, California, school. It canceled activities Wednesday night, though Thursday classes are still on.

"Students are scared, and several of them are leaving," Navarro said. "Everyone is worried and praying that all is safe."

Military facilities threatened

Another fire ignited around Camp Pendleton, a mammoth Marine base and training facility for multiple military branches, prompting evacuations of the O'Neill Heights Housing, the De Luz Child Development Center and Mary Fay Pendleton Elementary School, the Marines said.

Another blaze burned in the community of Fallbrook, adjacent to the military post, which is the West Coast boot camp for enlistees.

Cal Fire said the wildfire charred 6,000 acres around the military facilities.

A precautionary evacuation was ordered at the nearby San Onofre nuclear power plant, which has been offline for two years because of another wildfire. Southern California Edison spokeswoman Maureen Brown said "there is no safety threat," though.

Among other locales, fires prompted the evacuations of the Legoland amusement park in Carlsbad.

Witness describes blaze as 'incredible'

The ferocious fires made for sensational viewing.

"Oh, my God! Oh, my gosh!" California resident Kristin Michalec said on a video she shared with CNN as she drove through raging flames in Carlsbad, near where she lives.

"It was so hard to see because of the thick smoke," she later told CNN in an interview.

Rich Breeze saw a burning house explode in Carlsbad.

"No one hurt that I know of. Everyone was out of the house at the time," Breeze told CNN iReport. "We were just right there when it exploded. It was just super intense.

"The fire was just incredible. It was beyond anything you've ever seen before," he said.

Jay Ringgold, an information technology manager in Carlsbad, smelled the smoke easily. Santa Ana winds, also called devil winds, whipped up the fires.

"People were very surprised that it came that close to the business district. There are a lot of big companies there -- near that is a brush area and homes," said Ringgold, a CNN iReporter. "Everyone was panicking and wanting to get out of there."

CNN's Paul Vercammen reported from Carlsbad, while Ed Payne wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Greg Botelho, Michael Martinez, Amanda Watts and AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.

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