December 21, 2014
California wildfires force 125,000 to flee, one dead
California firefighters battled a series of wildfires that have forced 125,000 people to flee their homes in the San Diego area and may have killed at least one person.
Of nine major fires across Southern California, the one called the Cocos Fire posed the most immediate threat. It was advancing toward the communities of San Marcos and Escondido in northern San Diego County.
At least one large home was burned to the ground in suburban San Marcos by that fire. Television images showed towering flames closing in on other homes as residents scrambled to collect belongings and evacuate.
Bright orange flames twisted in the wind, filling the sky with thick columns of black smoke. Fire engines with lights flashing moved along winding streets in neighborhoods of large Spanish-style homes.
Authorities said they would investigate how so many fires started about the same time and whether any were intentionally set.
"We all have suspicions, like the public does, when you have nine fires that started all over the county," San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said.
The cluster of fires comes as California enters its peak fire season amid its worst drought in decades. Officials worry it could be a particularly dangerous year.
Authorities said the fires had destroyed seven homes and an 18-unit apartment building across San Diego county. Seven other homes and two businesses were damaged.
"Even as we speak, there continue to be extraordinary acts of bravery and heroism out there on the front lines," San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer told a news conference.
While firefighters were still trying to keep flames at bay in San Marcos, their attention was turning to protecting much larger Escondido. Winds were pushing the flames southeast, forcing residents to flee and leaving the community's downtown eerily quiet.