New evacuation orders issued for San Diego County’s Lilac fire

SAN DIEGO — A wind-fanned fire growing at a “dangerous” rate in North San Diego County has charred 3,000 acres, destroyed dozens of structures and is threatening 5,000 more, fire officials said Thursday.

At least three people were burned in the blaze, which roared through Bonsall, a rural community of horses, livestock and agricultural lands, into Oceanside. Homes were quickly reduced to piles of ash and teams of horses fled from the flames.

Some of the four-legged animals didn’t escape.

The fire — which ignited as “extreme” Santa Ana winds fed major fires across Southern California — prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in the county. It is 0 percent contained.

Everything within the Bonsall area bound by West Lilac Road, Interstate 15, Gopher Canyon Road and East Vista Way was evacuated, Cal Fire said. The area includes homes and businesses, an avocado grove, a horse training center, Sullivan Middle School and Bonsall High School.

Residents were also evacuated from the Oceanside area bordered by Burma Road, Wilshire Road, North River Road and South Mission Avenue.

Cal Fire issued an evacuation warning for the area south of North River Road, west of East Vista Way, north of Bobier Drive and east of Melrose Drive and North Santa Fe Avenue.

“It’s incumbent on all the people in this area to stay alert, stay informed and, if you feel it’s important, self-evacuate and get out of the way of this fast-moving fire,” said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore. “… Don’t necessarily wait for that deputy to knock on your door. There aren’t that many of us out there.”

Although most residents appeared to flee the area, some stayed behind to watch over their homes or businesses.

Susie and Michael Lynn stood on the dirt road leading to their home, putting out small spot fires with garden hoses.

The couple were working at a nearby horse training center when they saw a huge cloud of smoke billowing near their neighborhood.

“We saw it getting the better of the firemen and it was heading our way,” said Susie Lynn.

The fast-moving fire prompted many roads to be closed, including east state Route 76 between East Vista Way and Interstate 15, west Route 76 between South Mission Road and Old Highway 395. Old Highway 395 was also closed at Lilac Road.

“This is a wind-driven fire that is moving at a dangerous rate,” CalFire Capt. Jon Heggie said. “This is an extremely dynamic situation. We’re trying our best to get out ahead of it to try and keep people safe.”

A number of evacuation centers were set up.

There will likely be more evacuations ordered overnight for residents living in the area, said Ron Lane, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer who oversees public safety.

“This is not over,” he said. “… This is a very dangerous period of time we are going through in the County of San Diego over the next 24 to 48 hours.”

A number of school districts will be closed Friday.

Residents who own animals were told they could bring horses and other livestock to the San Diego County fairgrounds in Del Mar, about 30 miles from Bonsall, for safety.

Many of the structures that were initially destroyed were mobile homes in the Rancho Moserate Country Club on Dulin Road. The upscale, senior mobile home park borders a 9-hole golf course.

Around 4 p.m., TV footage from a helicopter showed at least 50 of the mobile homes were on fire or already destroyed.

It’s unclear where other destroyed structures may be located. An unknown number of structures have been damaged, Cal Fire said.

Passing motorists reported the fire near the right-hand shoulder of I-15 about 11:15 a.m. Flames quickly charred 50 acres, and evacuations were announced soon after.

The fire was propelled by gusts of about 30 to 35 mph, the National Weather Service said.

A number of agencies rushed to the area to help douse the fire including crews from Camp Pendleton. Hundreds of firefighters were battling the blaze.

A number of firefighting aircraft were also dropping water and fire retardant on the flames.

A helicopter leased by San Diego Gas & Electric Co. that can drop up to 2,650 gallons of water — the equivalent to five fire engines — was dispatched around noon to help fight the blaze.

The copter can be airborne within 15 minutes and takes only 45 seconds to refill its tanks, said SDG&E spokeswoman Helen Gao.

The Bonsall High School District said in a statement that buses quickly transported students who weren’t picked up by parents to the Bonsall Community Center. They were later taken to the Fallbrook High gymnasium.

“We have good heads-up and were able to get every bus here and every kid loaded just before we saw flames coming right over the hill,” said Joseph Clebenger, principal of Sullivan Middle School.

Fifteen Oceanside schools also dismissed some students early because of concerns about air quality, as smoke billowed across North San Diego County toward the coast.

“We can definitely smell it, it’s dark,” Oceanside school spokeswoman Lisa Contreras said. “There’s a haze over our office.”

Other area campuses took a wait and see approach. Schools in Vista were placed on alert, and activities were moved indoors to avoid smoke exposure, Matt Doyle, interim superintendent of Vista Unified School District, reported on the district website.

About 1:15 p.m., a second fire started at the San Luis Rey Training Center, a horse training center on Camino Del Rey.

Flames roared through the facility, destroying most of the barns. Trainers initially tried to coax the horses onto a main track at the facility, but as flames encroached, they simply set the panicky horses free.

Workers risked getting trampled to let the animals out.

Mac McBride, spokesman for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said horses are being accepted at the fairgrounds’ Stable Gate.

Horse owners were advised to bring bedding and feed that is identifiable, McBride said.

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