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Fires burn more than 10,000 acres, and counting, in San Diego County

Wildfires
10 fires have burned a total of more than 10,000 acres in San Diego County
Investigators work to determine cause of San Diego County fires, rule out arson
Hundreds of San Marcos residents check into shelters as Cocos fire forces them to evacuate

For a third sweltering day, crews battled brush fires in northern San Diego County as racing flames forced more evacuations and several additional homes were damaged or destroyed by one of the fires.

Ten fires have burned a total of more than 10,000 acres, although only two of the blazes — originating in Carlsbad and San Marcos — have destroyed structures.

In Carlsbad, firefighters found a “badly burned body” in a transient camp where the thick brush had been scorched by the fire. The identity of the victim and cause of death have not been determined.

Although there is no evidence of arson, investigators are working to determine the cause of the blazes, law enforcement officials said.

Sheriff Bill Gore promised that deputies will work to prevent burglary or looting at the homes of people forced to evacuate.

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside) said there have been reports of people using aerial drones to take pictures of the fires. Chavez said using drones could interfere with “our heroes doing their work,” especially personnel in water-dropping helicopters.

The most “active” fire was in San Marcos, where the 1,200-acre Cocos fire was only 10% contained as firefighters increased their air attack with helicopters from the military and Sheriff's Department. Officials said evacuation notices covering 13,000 San Marcos homes and businesses had been issued.

The Cocos fire, pushed by shifting winds, also moved into Escondido, forcing evacuations there and destroying some structures. A downtown church was gutted by fire Thursday night but it's unclear whether it was related to the Cocos fire.

Hundreds of people were checked into shelters, waiting for word on the status of their homes. Initial reports Thursday morning were that three structures had been lost, but that number will probably increase as a tally is made of the fire's erratic pattern.

Rebecca Kuritz, 35, said she was home with her 15-year-old son Wednesday afternoon when she realized a fire was headed straight toward their San Marcos complex.

“People were running out of our complex,” Kuritz said. “Running.”

She grabbed her son and left with only one shoe on. “I've lost enough stuff in my life, I just wanted to get out of there,” Kuritz said. “It's just stressful. You realize what's really important really quick.”

The largest current fire, covering 6,300 acres, erupted Wednesday at Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook next to Camp Pendleton. On Thursday, the fire moved toward Fallbrook, prompting officials to order evacuations.

A new 600-acre fire on the base led to the evacuation of a Marine barracks to a parade deck near a mess hall.

The Poinsettia fire in Carlsbad, which had destroyed several single-family homes and a 22-unit apartment building, did not grow beyond its perimeter, but firefighters were busy putting out hot spots and keeping embers from flying toward pricey homes.

The Bernardo fire, which erupted near Rancho Bernardo in the city of San Diego on Tuesday — the first of the brush fires to erupt — was considered 75% contained.

Cal State San Marcos remained on evacuation status, with graduation ceremonies set for Friday and Saturday canceled. Evacuation orders went out to the Harmony Grove and Elfin Forest areas, among others.

Robert Scott, San Marcos Fire division chief, said that as some of the other fires plaguing the county have been contained, resources have been freed up to fight the Cocos fire.

He said that although a fleet of aircraft from the military and other agencies have helped dropping water, much of the work is done by “boots on the ground.”

As crews and engines continued to roll in, he said: “For fires like this, for lack of a better term, you call the world.”

Cowan reported from San Marcos, Perry from San Diego and Rocha from Los Angeles.

jill.cowan@latimes.com

tony.perry@latimes.com

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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