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Yesterday, I was having a business lunch in Temecula, north of San Diego by about an hour and just off of I-15. I went with the understanding that the Bernado Fire that had burned the day before was under control.

When I stepped out of the restaurant, the sky was filling with smoke from several areas in my view, which were from three of the 9 wildfires that broke out around the county yesterday.

In all, nine fires in the county had burned more than 9,000 acres, Cal Fire Capt. Dave Allen said at a briefing late Wednesday held by fire and law-enforcement officials. That number included the Bernardo fire that began Tuesday near 4S Ranch. It was 50 percent contained Thursday and had burned 1,548 acres, officials said.

Racing to get home, I was stopped along the I-15 by firefighters handling the “Highway Fire”. I got an up-close and personal view of the blaze, as well as the very effective and organized response by the firefighters and emergency crews.

The worst of the fires was in the coastal community of Carlsbad.

Thousands were asked to evacuate their homes – including in Carlsbad – after the blaze erupted about 10:34 a.m. Wednesday and spread through rapidly heavy brush before jumping into residential areas.

Despite a state fire report of 30 homes burned earlier in the day, Carlsbad Fire Chief Michael Davis said he knows of just three homes destroyed and about a dozen damaged, all of them in the same neighborhood.

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, Nick Schuler of Cal Fire said.

San Diego blogger Tim Daniel of LeftCoastRebel captured video of this blaze, which is now known as the “Poinsettia Fire”:

Fire also forced evacuation of California State University – San Marcos. This blaze has been dubbed the Cocos fire (in California, we give our fires names like East Coasters name hurricanes).

The so-called Cocos Fire — initially designated the Washingtonia Fire — broke out for unknown reasons in the area of Cocos Drive about 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, according to Cal Fire. The state firefighting agency said early today it has confirmed that three structures were destroyed and one was damaged by the fire.

It was one of several fires to erupt within hours of each other on Wednesday amid unseasonably hot, dry and windy weather conditions.

“(The) fire is still very active and continues to move to the south,” Cal Fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser said at 2:30 Thursday morning.

The San Marcos fire broke out while I was waiting on I-15, and was near the route I was going to have to use to get home. At that point, I turned the car around at the first opportunity and stayed in Temecula until the interstate was reopened.

This situation is unusual for a number of reasons. Wildfires here typically occur in the fall, after months of summer heat and dryness, like they did in 2003 and 2007. And even though we are having an unusually hot heat wave in May, never have there been so many wildfires erupting  at the same time.  Expressing concerns, officials indicate that arson investigators are being sent to all the impacted areas.

County Supervisor Bill Horn, whose district includes much of North County, speculated that arson had to be behind the spate of fires.

“I question whether or not six fires haven’t been set by somebody,” Horn said. “That’s just my thought. But I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years.”

Carlsbad Fire Chief Michael Davis said arson is not being ruled out.

“Each fire will be treated as a crime scene until it’s proven to be accidental,” Davis said.

Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency and my son is getting a “fire day” off because the school district has officially closed.

My home was nearly destroyed in the 2003 Cedar Fire and we were slated for evacuation in 2007.  Important lessons were learned from those disasters, and I am very impressed by the robust response of our emergency teams, the professionalism of our local media, and the take-charge approach of our new mayor, Kevin Faulconer.

Stay tuned!  It’s still hot, and fires are still smoldering.

(Featured image by Tim Daniel of LeftCoastRebel)