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Flare-up keeps San Diego fire situation tenuous

  • A structure burns during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

    A structure burns during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • A helicopter files over San Marcos, Calif. on Thursday, May 15, 2014 as wildfires climb a hill eastward towards Mission Hills High School where the Red Cross has set up an evacuation center. The fires have come during a heat wave in the drought-stricken state. (AP Photo/UT San Diego, Peggy Peattie)

    A helicopter files over San Marcos, Calif. on Thursday, May 15, 2014 as wildfires climb a hill eastward towards Mission Hills High School where the Red Cross has set up an evacuation center. The fires have come during a heat wave in the drought-stricken state. (AP Photo/UT San Diego, Peggy Peattie)

  • A firefighter moves past a burning structure during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

    A firefighter moves past a burning structure during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • A Riverside firefighter moves away as shifting winds bring a plume of smoke overhead during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

    A Riverside firefighter moves away as shifting winds bring a plume of smoke overhead during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Jeff Brown waters the roof of his home as vegetation smolders during a wildfire, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

    Jeff Brown waters the roof of his home as vegetation smolders during a wildfire, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • A Riverside firefighter covers the face of another firefighter as they work a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

    A Riverside firefighter covers the face of another firefighter as they work a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • A fireman surveys the damage to the Sound-Elkin business after being hit by wildfires in Carlsbad, Calif. The fires have come during a heat wave in the drought-stricken state. (AP Photo/UT San Diego, John Gibbins)

    A fireman surveys the damage to the Sound-Elkin business after being hit by wildfires in Carlsbad, Calif. The fires have come during a heat wave in the drought-stricken state. (AP Photo/UT San Diego, John Gibbins)

  • The charred remains of the Sound-Elkin business smoulder after being hit by wildfires in Carlsbad, Calif. The fires have come during a heat wave in the drought-stricken state. (AP Photo/UT San Diego, John Gibbins)

    The charred remains of the Sound-Elkin business smoulder after being hit by wildfires in Carlsbad, Calif. The fires have come during a heat wave in the drought-stricken state. (AP Photo/UT San Diego, John Gibbins)

  • A helicopter drops retardants while battling the Cocos fire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. The San Diego County sheriff says nearly 13,000 new evacuation notices have been issued due to a wildfire. Sheriff Bill Gore said the notifications are due to a Thursday afternoon flare-up and erratic winds around the Southern California city of San Marcos. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

    A helicopter drops retardants while battling the Cocos fire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. The San Diego County sheriff says nearly 13,000 new evacuation notices have been issued due to a wildfire. Sheriff Bill Gore said the notifications are due to a Thursday afternoon flare-up and erratic winds around the Southern California city of San Marcos. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

  • A fire climbs a hillside toward homes Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. The San Diego County sheriff says nearly 13,000 new evacuation notices have been issued due to a wildfire. Sheriff Bill Gore said the notifications are due to a Thursday afternoon flare-up and erratic winds around the Southern California city of San Marcos. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

    A fire climbs a hillside toward homes Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. The San Diego County sheriff says nearly 13,000 new evacuation notices have been issued due to a wildfire. Sheriff Bill Gore said the notifications are due to a Thursday afternoon flare-up and erratic winds around the Southern California city of San Marcos. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

  • Jeff Brown waters the roof of his home as vegetation smolders during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

    Jeff Brown waters the roof of his home as vegetation smolders during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Jeff Brown waters the roof of his home as vegetation smolders during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

    Jeff Brown waters the roof of his home as vegetation smolders during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • A brush fire roars up a hillside filling the air with smoke and embers Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

    A brush fire roars up a hillside filling the air with smoke and embers Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

  • Firefighters move back down the embankment to the brush fire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

    Firefighters move back down the embankment to the brush fire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

  • Firefighters take a break on a hillside after hours of work Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

    Firefighters take a break on a hillside after hours of work Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

  • Firefighters plan their attack as the brush fire flares up heading toward homes Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

    Firefighters plan their attack as the brush fire flares up heading toward homes Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

  • Firefighters take a break on a hillside after hours of work Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

    Firefighters take a break on a hillside after hours of work Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

  • Two firefighters discuss a strategy change while fighting a wildfire from the backyard of a home Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that have charred thousands of acres and burned homes. (AP Photo)

    Two firefighters discuss a strategy change while fighting a wildfire from the backyard of a home Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that have charred thousands of acres and burned homes. (AP Photo)

  • Firefighters take a break on a hillside after hours of work as the brush burns below them Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

    Firefighters take a break on a hillside after hours of work as the brush burns below them Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)

  • A firefighting aircraft moves into the smoke cloud as the wildfire flares with a wind shift Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that have charred thousands of acres and burned homes. (AP Photo)

    A firefighting aircraft moves into the smoke cloud as the wildfire flares with a wind shift Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that have charred thousands of acres and burned homes. (AP Photo)

  • A structure burns during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
  • A helicopter files over San Marcos, Calif. on Thursday, May 15, 2014 as wildfires climb a hill eastward towards Mission Hills High School where the Red Cross has set up an evacuation center. The fires have come during a heat wave in the drought-stricken state. (AP Photo/UT San Diego, Peggy Peattie)
  • A firefighter moves past a burning structure during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
  • A Riverside firefighter moves away as shifting winds bring a plume of smoke overhead during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
  • Jeff Brown waters the roof of his home as vegetation smolders during a wildfire, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
  • A Riverside firefighter covers the face of another firefighter as they work a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
  • A fireman surveys the damage to the Sound-Elkin business after being hit by wildfires in Carlsbad, Calif. The fires have come during a heat wave in the drought-stricken state. (AP Photo/UT San Diego, John Gibbins)
  • The charred remains of the Sound-Elkin business smoulder after being hit by wildfires in Carlsbad, Calif. The fires have come during a heat wave in the drought-stricken state. (AP Photo/UT San Diego, John Gibbins)
  • A helicopter drops retardants while battling the Cocos fire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. The San Diego County sheriff says nearly 13,000 new evacuation notices have been issued due to a wildfire. Sheriff Bill Gore said the notifications are due to a Thursday afternoon flare-up and erratic winds around the Southern California city of San Marcos. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
  • A fire climbs a hillside toward homes Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. The San Diego County sheriff says nearly 13,000 new evacuation notices have been issued due to a wildfire. Sheriff Bill Gore said the notifications are due to a Thursday afternoon flare-up and erratic winds around the Southern California city of San Marcos. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
  • Jeff Brown waters the roof of his home as vegetation smolders during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
  • Jeff Brown waters the roof of his home as vegetation smolders during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
  • A brush fire roars up a hillside filling the air with smoke and embers Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)
  • Firefighters move back down the embankment to the brush fire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)
  • Firefighters take a break on a hillside after hours of work Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)
  • Firefighters plan their attack as the brush fire flares up heading toward homes Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)
  • Firefighters take a break on a hillside after hours of work Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)
  • Two firefighters discuss a strategy change while fighting a wildfire from the backyard of a home Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that have charred thousands of acres and burned homes. (AP Photo)
  • Firefighters take a break on a hillside after hours of work as the brush burns below them Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)
  • A firefighting aircraft moves into the smoke cloud as the wildfire flares with a wind shift Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that have charred thousands of acres and burned homes. (AP Photo)

Firefighters aided by calmer winds made progress yesterday against a series of wildfires burning across San Diego County, and authorities collected clues and solicited the public’s help to determine what caused so many blazes to occur simultaneously.

While some of the nine fires were extinguished and thousands of people were able to return to their homes, the San Marcos blaze roared back in the afternoon. Flames raced along scrubby hillsides as massive black plumes filled the skies.

Smoke limited visibility to a few feet at times in the city of 85,000 about 35 miles north of San Diego. On one street, five horses wandered nervously in a paddock as firefighters worked to protect nearby homes and barns.

Sheriff Bill Gore said the flare-up prompted more than 13,000 new evacuation notices and served as a “reminder to everybody just how volatile this can be.”

The fires has destroyed at least eight houses, an 18-unit condominium complex and two businesses, and has burned more than 15 square miles, causing more than $20 million in damage so far. Most of the damage was in San Marcos and Carlsbad. No major injuries were reported.

While drought conditions and unusually high temperatures made the area ripe for wildfires, there are suspicions that at least some of the blazes might have been set. Gore said arson is being looked at but so are many other possibilities, such as sparks from vehicles.

He encouraged the public to contact authorities with any information.

Since the fires began Tuesday, 125,000 evacuation notices have been sent. Schools across the county were shut down, and the Legoland amusement park had to close Wednesday. It reopened Thursday.

While local authorities congratulated themselves for the cooperative effort among agencies and the bravery shown by firefighters, not everyone was pleased.

Greg Saska stood in front of his charred Carlsbad home Thursday in sandals that showed his soot-covered feet. He said he was not impressed with the fire response.

“I don’t want to complain, but I wish they had just made a little more effort to put the fire out,” Saska said. “The end of the house ... was still burning. And they (firefighters) just left. And I’m just kinda going, ‘What would’ve been the big deal to stay here another 10 minutes and put that out totally?’ I just don’t get it.”

The flare-up in San Marcos ran up a slope in a heavily vegetated area but with no wind on it. The fire was being driven by fuel and topography, said Division Chief Dave Allen of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“It’s created its own weather pattern there as it sucks oxygen in,” he said.

State fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser said the fire was running east along hillsides behind California State University, San Marcos, which canceled graduation ceremonies because of the danger from the flames.

The 1 1/2-square-mile blaze was only 5 percent contained by late Thursday afternoon.

Firefighters have been contending with sweltering heat in their fight to contain flames fueled by brush and trees left brittle by drought. Temperatures on Thursday ranged from the high 90s to 100.

Calmer winds allowed aircraft to make a heavy contribution to the firefighting efforts. Four air tankers and 22 military helicopters were being used, in addition to local agency helicopters.

Ten of the military helicopters were being used to battle a blaze that grew to almost 9 1/2 square miles on the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton. Despite its growth, the fire was 20 percent contained and was no longer considered a threat to communities.

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