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My wild ride through wildfires roaring through San Diego County

My wild ride through wildfires roaring through San Diego County

Wildfires gone wild.

Never let it be said that Legal Insurrection doesn’t have the hottest news.

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)


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LukeHandCool | May 15, 2014 at 1:14 pm

I pray there’s no loss of life or further loss of homes.

I hope the grape vines in Temecula are safe.

We spent a weekend wine tasting there last year and we were very pleasantly surprised at the quality.

    Temecula is safe – for now! Let me know if you ever head this way for wine tasting again. The wines there get better and better every year.

    LukeHandCool in reply to LukeHandCool. | May 15, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Will do. My wife is dying to go back. She’s always searching for travel bargains. I had no idea what a charming area it is.

    And I had never heard of wineries in Malibu until my daughter’s boyfriend took her wine tasting there last year.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely wine tasting while looking out over the Pacific with Sean Penn and Barbara Streisand?

I drove by the Highway fire in Temecula about 1 pm, when the radio was already reporting that I-15 was closed. It wasn’t, yet, and traffic was going full speed, but there were about half a dozen fire trucks by the side of the road, and I was wondering how in the world they were going to stop the fire from jumping the road, much less put it out completely.

Kudos to the various fire departments. I am astounded that they managed to limit the property damage so well, not to mention potential loss of lives. With all this going on, and late in the day, a fire cropped up in Scripps Ranch, and was put down within an hour. That ability to respond promptly to a new event with so much else going on, speaks volumes. Somebody has been planning and thinking strategically.

I remember the TIMES I looked up from the playground at Warner Ave. Elementary to see my hills shrouded in smoke.

Our home on Beverly Glen never burned, but we were evacuated several times. Good firefighters, and fire burns up hill. The Beverly Hills rich folks took it on the chin.

2nd Ammendment Mother | May 15, 2014 at 2:59 pm

“spread through rapidly heavy brush”

I feel for you guys. I wonder how much of the “out of control” aspects of these fires are being fed by environmental regulations and protected species acts that prevent property owners from keeping brush and dead wood from accumulating and the government that doesn’t keep it’s own property clear of brush.

It won’t stop an outbreak but good property management can limit the fuel for those fires and give firefighters a good chance of controlling them.

    In San Diego, not much, at least where I live. There are plenty of regulations, of course, but they have to do with making fire breaks around the edges of the canyons near the houses and mitigating the amount of available fuel.

    Also, San Diego has this amazing, partially completed network of irrigation throughout the city. It uses mainly recycled water, and in many places is used to grow fire-retardant landscaping. All that has potential use as a fire break.

    Further, eucalyptus and palm trees on public and HOA lands get regular trimming to remove old bark and leaves (tinder). Somebody has recognized that fires will happen despite the best efforts at prevention, and so there is a huge focus on fire mitigation.

    God bless those firefighters, though: this is normally the pre-season.

SoCA Conservative Mom | May 15, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I’ve lived in Carlsbad since 1977 and these are the worst fires we have experienced. The fires in 1996, 2003, and 2007 were bad, but nothing like this. Last night we could see 5 of the fires from our home. We were never in any danger, the closest fire being 6 miles away, but it was disconcerting knowing we were surrounded by fires. We made an impromptu evacuation plan that involved going north and having fish and chips in Dana Point, my son’s suggestion.

I do have to commend the Carlsbad Unified School District. Three schools were damaged by the fire, which started yards away from the Poinsettia Elementary School. They quickly evacuated over 2500 students from the 3 schools and kept parents updated on the whereabouts of their children and how to pick up kids in an orderly manner.

It does feel cooler today and the winds are starting change, so we should be back to normal by tomorrow or the next day.

    In Scripps, the breeze is mild but still coming from northeast at 1:30 pm. It has begun to gust a bit, and I can still see smoke from the Rancho Bernardo fire. It is hot and the breeze is pleasant, except that I can feel the skin on my arms and legs dry out immediately. The air is so dry that although I gave my roses and fuscia extra water each morning this week, the rose petals are toasted around the edges and the fuscia is wilted.

      SoCA Conservative Mom in reply to Valerie. | May 15, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      I’m at the north end of Carlsbad right by Buena Vista Lagoon. We are getting wind primarily from the west south west. The little cooling gusts coming in the back doors and windows are appreciated. It’s still very dry and 92F in my back yard, but changing to an onshore breeze as I type this.

tarheelkate | May 15, 2014 at 7:23 pm

KGTV in San Diego is reporting that “officials” are telling them 8 of 9 fires “have a suspicious ignition point.” Thank God and good firefighters that no one has died.

It’s Kahlifornia – you’ve done so much to pollute American culture. I don’t care.

Our grandsons were taking finals at Cal State San Marcos when the campus was evacuated. Our oldest grandson was supposed to graduate on Saturday. That has been postponed to next Saturday. Thankfully the kids and grandkids are all OK.

If I was AQ I would authorize these kinds of operations. 8 of 9 fires having “a suspicious ignition point” does not bode well.

Could be a test run. See where the response is effective and how & where to spread out the fires in order to prevent stopping all of them.

I’m not sure about these specific fires, but one major factor in the increase in wildfires and the damage they do on federal lands in the last 20 years or so is the nonsense anti-logging and wilderness rules. Normal logging and access to national lands provided much better protection against fast-spreading fires, slowing them down and allowing control before they got out of hand. Ironically, this ends up destroying more acreage than the logging or “exploitative” tourism with vehicles ever would have.

Today’s are likely arson, but it doesn’t matter what caused a fire if it threatens homes and lives and could have been stopped earlier and easier by simply allowing the traditional uses of public lands.

Public land is NOT the property of the government or their greenie pals. It is the people’s, held in trust for their use and benefit. The idea that the federal government would own wilderness land and prohibit public access and use would have been ridiculed by the Founders.

    Phillep Harding in reply to Estragon. | May 16, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    What happens is there is a “public” meeting (usually not so well advertised) about closing some area. The meeting is packed by people bussed in from out of the area, and most comments are in favor of closing the area to keep people from using it.

    Think on that one a bit.