Houses and horses burn in California’s newest wildfire


FALLBROOK, Calif. – Retirement communities built on golf courses, semi-rural stables and other generally serene sites were swallowed by the flames when the San Diego area became the last front in California's wildfire fight.

The fire broke out on Thursday amid arid, warm and windy conditions throughout the region that would be extreme for any season, but are especially dazzling just two weeks since winter.

It exceeded 6 square miles in a matter of hours and burned dozens of homes as it pbaded through the crowded community of Rancho Monserate Country Club in the small town of Fallbrook, known for its avocado orchards and horse ranches. Three people were burned as they escaped the flames, said Capt. Nick Schuler of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Meanwhile, firefighters in Ventura – 130 miles (209 kilometers) to the north – tried to corral the largest and most destructive fire in the state, which has destroyed 430 buildings. The so-called Thomas Fire has grown to 180 square miles (466 square kilometers) since it broke out on Monday. Firefighters made enough progress against large fires around Los Angeles to lift most of the evacuation orders.

The fire north of San Diego, driven by winds over 35 mph (56 kph), swept rows of trailer homes in the retirement community, leaving scorched and shattered metal in its wake.

It was not immediately known what triggered the fire along State Highway 76, but strong winds took him through six lanes to the other side.

Evacuations were ordered in the area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and schools and casinos were used as shelters.

Cynthia Olvera, 20, took refuge at Fallbrook High School.

He had been at his house in Bonsall with his younger sister and nephew when his father called from the family daycare to say that the fire had reached the door of his extensive property.

After starting to move away, the family turned around to retrieve the forgotten personal documents, but it was too late. The trees were burning and the flames were 10 feet (3 meters) from the house.

"I did not think it would move so fast," he said.

Her older sister wanted to drive to save her husband, but Olvera told her: "Do not do it, it's not worth it".

His sister listened to the advice and the family came to school safe and sound. But the flames followed, and the family had to pack again when the evacuation orders arrived for Fallbrook High School.

The family went to a second shelter, not knowing if their house survived.

As the flames approached the elite San Luis Rey Downs training facility for thoroughbreds, many of the more than 450 horses were cut to avoid being trapped in their stables if barns burned down, said Mac McBride Del Del Thoroughbred Club.

The herds of horses galloped palm trees in flames in their chaotic escape from a normally idyllic place. Not all survived.

Horse trainer Scott Hansen said he knew that some of his 30 horses at the facility died.

"I do not know how many are alive and how many are dead," he said. "I think I'll have to realize that in the morning."

It was not yet clear how many horses died, or what elite equine athletes did not achieve, but all the races on Friday at the Los Alamitos racecourse. They were canceled while the racing community was crying.

Along the coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara, small beach communities were under siege as fires leapt from steep hillsides through the US 101 freeway.

"We crossed a wall of flames" Wendy Frank said , describing his ordeal after evacuating his Ojai horses on Wednesday night. "I did not know if we would do it, I just pushed the accelerator, I know we're going over 100 mph (160 kph), we could have been going a lot more, and we just hope for the best." [19659003] Fires broke out along the highway Thursday, forcing dozens of houses to evacuate on Faria Beach.

The huge fire threatened Ojai, a picturesque 7,000-person mountain town known as "Shangri-La" and known for its boutique hotels and New Age spiritual retreats.

The ashes fell like snowflakes in the citrus groves scattered around the city and in Spanish-style architecture while the firemen parked their trucks around the houses in anticipation of the winds.

Some businesses were closed, but staples can be found at Pat's Liquor, where Hank Cheyne-Garcia loaded with supplies to feed another nervous night keeping the sentinel on fire.

"It got a bit too intense yesterday with the wind picking up," he said. "There was a lot of smoke, yesterday you could not see the street."


The writers of the Associated Press Amanda Lee Myers in Ventura, Julie Watson in San Diego, Brian Skoloff in Ojai and Brian Melley, Michael Balsamo, Chris Weber, Robert Jablon and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


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