FALLBROOK, Calif. (AP) — Retirement communities built on golf courses, semi-rural race horse stables and other usually serene sites were engulfed by flames as the San Diego area became the latest front in California’s wildfire fight.
The fire broke out Thursday amid dry, hot, windy conditions across the region that would be extreme for any season, but are especially stunning just two weeks from winter.
It exceeded 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) in a matter of hours and burned dozens of houses as it tore through the tightly packed Rancho Monserate Country Club community in the small city of Fallbrook, known for its avocado orchards and horse ranches. Three people were burned while escaping 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 Monday. Fire crews made enough progress against large fires around Los Angeles to lift most evacuation orders.
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The fire north of San Diego, driven by winds above 35 mph (56 kph), razed rows of trailer homes in the retirement community, leaving charred and mangled metal in its wake.
It wasn’t immediately known what sparked the fire next to State Highway 76, but strong winds carried it across six lanes to the other side.
Evacuations were ordered in the area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and schools and casinos were being used as shelters.
Cynthia Olvera, 20, took shelter at Fallbrook High School.
She had been at her Bonsall home with her younger sister and nephew when her father called from the family nursery to say the fire had reached the gate of their sprawling property.
After starting to drive away, the family turned around to recover forgotten personal documents — but it was too late. Trees were ablaze and flames were within 10 feet (3 meters) of the house.
“I didn’t think it would move that fast,” she said.
Her older sister wanted to drive in to save her husband’s car, but Olvera told her: “Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.”
Her sister heeded the advice and the family made it safely to the school. But the flames followed them, and the family had to…