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As San Diego battles wildfire, another erupts next door in Carlsbad

As San Diego battles wildfire, another erupts next door in Carlsbad
Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - 6:03pm

Even as 350 firefighters battled a 1,500-acre wildfire in San Diego, a second blaze erupted 20 miles away in Carlsbad on Wednesday, prompting evacuations of thousands of people and a resort.

California's drought, in tandem with so-called devil winds and low humidity, exacerbated the wildfires, fire officials said.

San Diego fire officials were trying to spare some of their crews to assist Carlsbad, where a 100-acre wildfire prompted a mandatory evacuation.

"We're trying to free resources to send to Carlsbad, which also has a serious fire going on and is just across the freeway," said San Diego Fire Department spokesman Lee Swanson.

"Humidity is 3 to 4%, and it's about 100 degrees," he added.

Carlsbad officials said Wednesday afternoon that "mandatory evacuations are in progress" in that city's so-called Poinsettia Fire.

San Diego County said more than 11,000 residents, businesses and cell phones in Carlsbad were notified to evacuate, but an exact number wasn't immediately available, the county said on Twitter. Also, parts of nearby Camp Pendleton were ordered to evacuate, including O'Neill Heights Housing, the De Luz Child Development Center and Mary Fay Elementary School, the county said.

That fire also prompted the evacuation of amusement park rides at Legoland in Carlsbad, the resort said on its Facebook page.

Firefighters were igniting backfires in hills as a preventive measure against the wildfire and any possible advances on a residential neighborhood.

"This is extreme. This has gone from dry conditions to volatile conditions," said a Carlsbad firefighter after using a torch to ignite backfire. wild brush. "This isn't something we don't normally see until November or September."

Back at the San Diego fire, authorities were concerned that hot, dry gusts called Santa Ana winds would set back their efforts since Tuesday morning to contain the wildfire, which improved overnight to 25% from 5%, said Cal Fire incident commander Ray Chaney.

The fire has burned 1,584 acres and prompted an evacuation Tuesday of 5,000 homes in San Diego and selected areas, authorities said. By Tuesday night, those residents had an "orderly return" to their homes, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said.

As of Wednesday morning, no structures were damaged, and only two minor injuries -- for smoke exposure and heat-related illness -- were reported, Chaney said.

In addition to the Santa Ana winds, 350 firefighters were expecting single-digit humidity, Chaney said.

"It does put us on edge," Chaney said of the forecast. "The weather is a very big concern for us."

Added Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department Chief Tony Michel: "The winds are going to be a problem."

"The battle isn't over," said San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer. "We have had crews out there that have worked all night."

Firefighting on early Wednesday focused on "mop-up operations," Chaney said.

The cause of the blaze, called the Bernardo Fire, is still under investigation, he said.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for areas around San Diego through 8 p.m. Wednesday. As the agency noted, "a red flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly," with strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures feeding into "extreme fire behavior."

Temperatures in the southern California city are forecast to peak in the mid-90s Wednesday and Thursday with no sign of rain, before cooling somewhat later in the week.

CNN's Ed Payne, Karan Olson, Greg Botelho and Matthew Stucker contributed to this report. Paul Vercammen reported from Carlsbad.

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