Three brush fires whipped by erratic wind in searing temperatures burned out of control late Saturday in San Diego, Riverside, and Ventura counties, destroying two homes and prompting the evacuation of one area, fire officials said.
Two ranch homes and two other structures were destroyed in northern San Diego County by a 1,200-acre fire on the southwestern slope of Palomar Mountain in Pauma Valley, California Department of Forestry officials said. No injuries were reported.
"I was standing on a ridge watching the fire and the man next to me was looking through binoculars. He turned to his wife and said, 'I think there goes our home,' " said Josie Ruiz, who was visiting friends in the area.
Firemen Just Too Late
Ruiz said she watched as the fire reached one home just as firefighters pulled into the driveway. "There was just nothing they could do," she said. "The wind was really blowing and the house went up as the firemen were getting out of their trucks."
Fire destroyed another home nearby before firefighters could get there, she said.
Rincado Road resident Patrice Jackson said she and her husband packed up their valuables and were ready to evacuate Saturday night as a handful of spot fires burned around them on the mountain slopes.
"We heard the popping of windows breaking," Jackson said of the homes that caught fire.
Forestry officials said they were hopeful that diminishing winds and rising overnight humidity would help firefighters battling the blaze, which was burning through avocado and citrus groves and rugged canyons.
About 2,500 acres had been scorched in southern Riverside County by Saturday night, requiring the evacuation of a 10-square-mile area of rural hillside homes and burning three trailers and a shed. No injuries were reported and damage was estimated at $18,000, California forestry officials said.
The fire erupted shortly after 1 p.m. near Interstate 15 and Antelope Road and quickly burned in a westward direction, said forestry spokeswoman JoAnne Kay. Officials believe the fire was touched off by the sparks of faulty power lines.
Shelter at High School
A large mobile home development called the Farm and several ranch homes in the area between Interstate 15 and Interstate 215 were evacuated about 4 p.m. The number of homes evacuated was not known, Kay said.
A Red Cross shelter was opened in the auditorium of Elsinore High School to provide overnight shelter and food to evacuees. David Ahrens, Red Cross area supervisor, estimated that 100 people evacuated the area and about 60 registered at the shelter.
He said residents were receiving conflicting information late Saturday about whether they could return home and many had left the shelter.
More than 300 firefighters, 25 engines, 10 bulldozers and six water tanker airplanes were battling the blaze. Forestry officials did not predict when it would be brought under control.
In the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County, a 1,900-acre fire in rugged terrain about 12 miles north of Ojai was about 20% contained Saturday night, U.S Forest Service officials said.
Burns Camping Area
No homes or other structures were threatened in the blaze as it raged through chaparral and timberland in Grade Valley and the Fish Bowl area, a popular rustic hiking and campground spot. Forest Service officials had no reports of missing or injured hikers.
About 400 firefighters were on the fire lines Saturday night. Firefighting efforts were hampered when erratic winds fanned the flames into remote terrain inaccessible to ground crews. Poor visibility caused by dense smoke limited the use of water-dropping airplanes. Officials did not know when the blaze would be contained.
In heat-scorched Los Angeles, city firefighters quickly contained a 10-acre brush fire near the Griffith Park Observatory Saturday afternoon. Fourteen fire companies extinguished the 1 p.m. blaze in 1 hour and 15 minutes. No injuries were reported and no structures were threatened, fire officials said.
Stephanie Chavez reported from Los Angeles and Tom Gorman from San Diego.