SAN MARCOS, Calif. — A wildfire that has charred at least 1,200 acres and leveled several homes south of state Route 78 raged for a second day Thursday, becoming the prime focus of emergency crews running themselves ragged fighting wind-stoked blazes throughout San Diego County.
As of late Thursday afternoon, the burn area was only 10 percent contained.
In the mid-afternoon, live television broadcasts showed flames tearing over hillsides near Cal State San Marcos and engulfing a large home on Phoenix Way.
At least three structures have been destroyed and one damaged by the fire, which prompted the county to issued thousands of evacuation notices, officials said.
“Yesterday was a difficult day throughout the county with fire units responding to more than nine fires here in San Diego County,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Nick Schuler said. “Throughout the night we made great progress on some of the fires in the county, including the Cocos Fire, which we’re here at today, which is the No. 1 priority in the county.”
Camp Pendleton Marines offered the use of 22 helicopters Thursday, including 12 that would be used to help fight the blaze, county Supervisor Bill Horn said. Marines are also fighting fires on the base.
Four Cal Fire air tankers were available Thursday.
Schuler said Thursday’s goal was to keep the fire out of Harmony Grove, with an emphasis on structure protection, structure defense and perimeter control. To that end, hundreds of firefighters were brought in “fresh” today to work the incident, he said.
The Cocos Fire was law enforcement’s No. 1 focus Thursday, according to San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore.
“We are watching your neighborhoods, we are protecting your property while your gone,” Gore said, adding that 120 deputies were assigned to fire-related duties.
The Cocos Fire was one of several fires to erupt within hours of each other on Wednesday amid unseasonably hot, dry and windy conditions. Though a Red Flag warning remain in effect for valley and mountain areas until 5 p.m., the National Weather Service said Thursday’s winds would be moderate compared to Wednesday’s powerful gusts.
“We’re very fortunate not to have the winds that we had yesterday,” Horn said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
“We just don’t know at this time and I think it would be just pure speculation,” Gore said, when asked if any of the fires were deliberately set.
“Sure, we had a lot of fires but you have to look at the conditions we were in,” Gore said. “The grass out there is nothing but kindling for these fires (and) we had winds at very very high speeds.”
Several thousand San Marcos-area residents were evacuated Wednesday and early Thursday. The latest evacuation orders arrived by text, emails and phone calls to residents in Questhaven, Harmony Grove and parts of Elfin Forest in San Marcos and neighboring unincorporated areas of the county, sheriff’s deputies said.
Cal State San Marcos was evacuated in the hours after the fire started Wednesday. The campus will remain closed through Friday and this weekend’s commencement ceremonies have been canceled, according to university officials.
Other evacuations were ordered in areas south of San Marcos Boulevard, including Coronado Hills, Discovery Hills, Elfin Forest, Harmony Grove, Lake San Marcos, Questhaven and San Elijo Hills.
The emergency room at Palomar Medical Center on Citracado Parkway was temporarily closed, officials said. People needing emergency care were asked to go to the hospital’s other facility at 555 E. Valley Parkway.
The following road closings were in effect at midday:
— Bent Avenue at Discovery Street;
— Coronado Hills Drive at Via del Campo;
— Craven Road at Discovery Street;
— Del Dios Hwy from Via Rancho Parkway to Rancho Road;
— Double Peak Road at San Elijo Road;
— Harmony Grove Road at Village Drive;
— La Costa Meadows Drive at South Rancho Santa Fe Road;
— La Moree at Barham Drive, Coronado Hills and Via Del Campo;
— Melrose Drive at Boulderidge Drive;
— Questhaven Road at Attebury Road;
— San Elijo Road at Elfin Forest Road, Questhaven Road and Rancho Santa Fe Road;
— San Pablo Way at Discovery Street;
— Skyline Drive at Via Vera Cruz;
— South Twin Oaks Valley Road at Village Drive and State Route 78;
— Valley Parkway at Citracado Parkway;
— Via del Campo at Coronado Hills Drive;
— Via Vera Cruz at Discovery Street; and
— Wilgen Drive at Harmony Grove Road.
Evacuation centers were established at Mission Hills High School, located at 1 Mission Hills Court; San Marcos Middle School, 650 W. Mission Road; and Escondido High School, 1535 N. Broadway.
American Red Cross disaster workers were manning shelters at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos and La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad.
What was previously a temporary evacuation site at Escondido High School was also being converted into a shelter, according to the relief agency.
People with small animals may bring them to Mission Hills and Escondido high schools. Horses and other large animals were being taken in at Cloverdale Ranch, 2460 Cloverdale Road, in Escondido, county officials said.
Citing anonymous sources, 10News reported that investigators consider all but one of nine significant wildfires that have ravaged San Diego County this week suspicious. Sheriff Bill Gore has told reporters that all possibilities, including arson, were being considered.
“It would be pure speculation to say they they were (intentionally) set, or (ignited) by a car or an individual,” Gore told news crews during a mid-afternoon briefing. “It’s just too early.”
Investigating the origins of the blazes will be the San Diego Metro Arson Strike Team, sheriff’s Bomb-Arson Unit and individual municipal fire departments, the sheriff said.
During the news conference, Dianne Jacob, chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors, noted that the Santa Ana winds that have been howling through the region this week had diminished considerably this morning.
“But everyone should still remain vigilant and stay on standby,” Jacob said.
The sheriff stressed the importance of heeding evacuation orders.
“Obey the orders of law enforcement,” Gore said. “Evacuate. If you’ve been asked to evacuate, we have the personnel in place to protect those neighborhoods, so when you come back to your residences there will be no vandalism and you’ll return to a secure home.”