Searing heat and tricky winds forced firefighters Monday to forgo their campaign to contain a big blaze burning on Palomar Mountain in San Diego County and concentrate instead on salvaging rural homes that stood in the wildfire's path.
By sundown, the two-day fire, burning 60 miles north of San Diego on the southwestern slope of Palomar Mountain, had claimed three ranch houses and burned more than 7,500 acres of rugged brushland. Only 20% of the fire had been contained and prospects for checking its progress were poor.
"We're not actively firefighting," said Rob Bruggenia, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry. "With the weather they way it is, we can't keep it up."
More than 1,000 firefighters were deployed to the San Diego County blaze, the worst of several fires burning throughout Southern California on yet another broiling day of temperatures topping 100 degrees and erratic dry winds. The fires collectively destroyed nine homes and blackened more than 14,000 acres.
Other still active blazes were located outside Escondido in northern San Diego County and north of Ojai in Ventura County. Separate fires near Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, on a slope of Modjeska Canyon in Orange County, and in the Santa Lucia Mountains of Santa Barbara County were all either contained by firebreaks or extinguished by afternoon Monday.
No lives were reported lost in any of the blazes, although throughout the state dozens of firefighters were treated for medical complications arising from the combination of intense heat and smoke and for other minor injuries.
Bruggenia said that the firefighters working on Palomar Mountain had given up hope of checking the blaze's spread as it ripped through tinder-dry vegetation that had not been thinned by fire for three decades.
Smoke from the fire, burning partly in the Cleveland National Forest through the Pauma Valley, prompted scores of motorists to pull over and watch the flames visible from California 76.
The fire was not threatening the Palomar Observatory, about five miles from the easternmost point of the blaze.
The cause of the Pauma Valley fire was undetermined.
Arson was blamed for a second San Diego County fire, burning 40 miles north of San Diego in Escondido. The blaze broke out near the intersection of Valley Center Grade and Lake Wohlford Road, and at one point threatened 15 homes. Forestry officials said it was expected to be fully contained by Monday evening.
In Ventura County, a lightning-sparked blaze that began Friday in the Los Padres National Forest north of Ojai scorched more than 4,500 acres after flaring Sunday on the north and west toward San Guillermo Mountain, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Susan Mockenhaupt.
More than 1,200 firefighters working that blaze were slowed by dense smoke, thick undergrowth and limited access to the remote, rugged area.
The Ojai fire, 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles, began at noon Friday near Fishbowls Campground, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Juanita Freel. There was no estimate on containment.
The fire was not close to any structures, she said.
A fire that burned 3,175 acres near Lake Elsinore was contained at 5 a.m. Monday. Damage totaled $717,700 to two mobile homes, a garage, 25 older model vehicles, four outbuildings, a three-wheeled vehicle, a golf cart and four travel trailers.