SoCal fire injures eight, destroys homes in Fallbrook
FALLBROOK, Calif. (AP) — Santa Ana winds pushed flames through this small agricultural town Sunday, injuring eight people and destroying homes.
The San Diego County fire was first spotted about noon Sunday and consumed 3,000 acres, damaged or destroyed 16 homes, a sheriff’s patrol car and a fire engine, said a North County fire captain.
The fire was moving rapidly westward, fed by sustained winds of 25 mph to 30 mph and spread to the Naval Weapons Station in, marching within 500 yards of officers’ housing. The area had been evacuated, according to station spokesman Gregg Smith. Fewer than 20 people live in those quarters.
Ammunition and other weapons stores on the base are protected inside structures that can withstand fire, he said. “There is no immediate concern over the potential of an explosion,” he said.
Officials at Camp Pendleton, west of the Navy station, said units of the base fire department have been dispatched to the Gavlin fire, which is moving toward the camp. There was no immediate threat to the camp, said spokesman Lt. Greg Scott.
Eight people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and hypothermia. The latter injuries came when six people took shelter in a swimming pool while fire raged over them, said North County fire Capt. Rick Mann.
Three helicopters, nine bulldozers and more than 500 firefighters and 100 engines were assigned to the fire, Mann said.
Smoke towered over and permeated the avocado groves and ranch homes in Fallbrook about 60 miles north of San Diego.
“It just came so fast,” said Ralph Cox, 51, who was trapped in his adobe house when fire raced up a hillside covered with manzanita scrub and citrus trees. He said he heard an explosion before flames surrounded his home.
“It was just a big pop and a solid wall of fire,” said Cox, who was rescued by firefighters who made an escape path out of the house.
The fire drove out Pete Jespersen, who stood red-eyed on the street, soot covering his face and arms, clutching an American flag.
Jespersen, 37, sprayed water on his in-laws’ house, but had to leave because the flames were approaching so quickly.
“I tried to save the house, but it was no use,” he said. He grabbed the flag from the house and breathed through it as he escaped the heavy smoke.
American Red Cross officials, who were setting up a shelter at a nearby high school, said about 100 people had been displaced by the fire.
Firefighters around Southern California fought several other brush fires Sunday, including a 1,400-acre blaze near Anaheim Hills that was fueled by winds gusting as high as 80 mph.
More than 1,000 firefighters were tackling the blaze, which was about 10 percent contained, said Kymbra Fleming of the Orange County Fire Authority.
The fire broke out about 9 p.m. Saturday. No homes were immediately threatened, although some residents became worried when high winds carried smoke over their neighborhood, Fleming said.
Smoke from the fire was expected to reduce visibility in some areas to below a quarter of a mile, according to the National Weather Service.