A brush fire driven by gusty winds that have plagued Southern California all week exploded rapidly Thursday north of San Diego, destroying dozens of trailer homes in a retirement community and killing race horses at an elite training facility.
The fire expanded to 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) in a matter of hours and tore through the tightly packed Rancho Monserate Country Club community in the small city of Fallbrook, known for its avocado orchards and horse ranches. At least two people were hospitalized with burns.
The destructive blaze broke out as firefighters tried to corral the largest fire in the state that was burning around Ventura — 130 miles (209 kilometers) to the north — and destroyed 430 buildings as it grew to 180 square miles (466 square kilometers). Fire crews were also fighting large fires around Los Angeles, but they made enough progress to lift most evacuation orders.
Like other fires that have broken out this week, Fallbrook has a history of destructive blazes. Ten years ago, as a series of fires raced across Southern California, a blaze in Fallbrook injured five people, destroyed 206 homes and burned 14 square miles (36 square kilometers).
Thursday’s fire prompted the closure of state Highway 76 in both directions and evacuations in an area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. Evacuation centers were set up in schools and casinos.
Jim Peratt was in Las Vegas on business when his wife called and said she was rounding up their two horses and evacuating their property in Bonsall, a community of 4,000 amid the rolling hills of rural San Diego County.
“She saw nothing but smoke and flames all around,” Peratt said. “I’m praying I’ll have a home when I get back. I’m just waiting to hear.”
As the flames approached the elite San Luis Rey Downs training facility for thoroughbreds, many of the more than 450 horses were cut loose to prevent them from being trapped in their stalls if barns caught fire, said Mac McBride of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
Horse trainer Scott Hansen said he knows that some of his 30 horses at the facility died.
“I don’t know how many are living and how many are dead,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to figure that out in…