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Cocos Fire Now at 1,000+ Acres, Several Homes Lost

Submitted photo of the Cocos Fire.
Submitted photo of the Cocos Fire.

A wildfire that has charred at least 1,000 acres and leveled several homes south of state Route 78 raged for a second day today, becoming the prime focus of emergency crews running themselves ragged fighting wind-stoked blazes across the San Diego area.

The blaze broke out near Cocos Drive in San Marcos for unknown reasons about 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, according to Cal Fire.

As of early this afternoon, the burn area was only 5 percent contained.

Early this afternoon, live television broadcasts showed flames tearing over hillsides near Cal State San Marcos and engulfing a large home on Phoenix Way.

As of midday, at least three structures had been destroyed and one damaged by the fire, which prompted the county to issued thousands of evacuation notices, officials said.

"Yesterday was a difficult day throughout the county with fire units responding to more than nine fires here in San Diego County," Cal Fire Battalion Chief Nick Schuler said. "Throughout the night we made great progress on some of the fires in the county, including the Cocos Fire, which we're here at today, which is the No. 1 priority in the county."

Camp Pendleton Marines offered the use of  22 helicopters today, including 12 that would be used to help fight the blaze, county Supervisor Bill Horn said. Marines are also fighting fires on the base.

Four Cal Fire air tankers were available today.

Schuler said today's goal was to keep the fire out of Harmony Grove, with an emphasis on structure protection, structure defense and perimeter control. To that end, hundreds of firefighters were brought in "fresh" today to work the incident, he said.

The Cocos Fire was law enforcement's No. 1 focus today, according to San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore.

"We are watching your neighborhoods, we are protecting your property while your gone," Gore said, adding that 120 deputies were assigned to fire- related duties.

The Cocos Fire was one of several fires to erupt within hours of each other on Wednesday amid unseasonably hot, dry and windy  conditions. Though a Red Flag warning remain in effect for valley and mountain areas until 5 p.m., the National Weather Service said today's winds would be moderate compared to Wednesday's powerful gusts.

"We're very fortunate not to have the winds that we had yesterday," Horn said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

"We just don't know at this time and I think it would be just pure speculation," Gore said, when asked if any of the fires were deliberately set.

"Sure, we had a lot of fires but you have to look at the conditions we were in," Gore said. "The grass out there is nothing but kindling for these fires (and) we had winds at very very high speeds."

Several thousand San Marcos-area residents were evacuated Wednesday and early today. The latest evacuation orders arrived by text, emails and phone calls to residents in Questhaven, Harmony Grove and parts of Elfin Forest in San Marcos and neighboring unincorporated areas of the county, sheriff's deputies said.

Cal State San Marcos was evacuated in the hours after the fire started Wednesday. The campus will remain closed through Friday and this weekend's commencement ceremonies have been canceled, according to university officials.

Other evacuations were ordered in neighborhoods south of San Marcos Boulevard, including Coronado Hills, Discovery Hills, Discovery Meadows, Elfin Forest, Harmony Grove, Lake San Marcos, Questhaven and San Elijo Hills.

The following road closings were in effect at midday:

  • Barham Drive at La Moree Road
  • Bent Avenue at Discovery Street
  • Coronado Hills Drive at Via Del Camp
  • Craven Road at Twin Oaks Valley Road
  • Double Peak Road at San Elijo Road
  • Elfin Forest Road at Calistoga Way
  • Fallsview Road at San Elijo Road
  • Harmony Grove Road at Village Drive
  • La Costa Meadows Drive at South Rancho Santa Fe Road
  • Melrose Drive Rancho Santa Fe Road and San Elijo Road
  • Questhaven Road at Attebury Road and city limit
  • Rancho Santa Fe Road at Melrose Drive
  • San Elijo Road at Double Peak Road, Elfin Forest Road, Questhaven Road and Rancho Santa Fe Road
  • San Pablo Way at Discovery Street
  • Skyline Drive at Via Vera Cruz
  • South Twin Oaks Valley Road at Craven Road, Village Drive and State Route 78
  • Via del Campo at Coronado Hills Drive
  • Via Vera Cruz at Discovery Street
  • Wilgen Drive at Harmony Grove Road

An evacuation center was established at Mission Hills High School, located at 1 Mission Hills Court.

People with small animals may bring them to the high school or Calavera Hills Community Center, 2997 Glasgow Drive, Carlsbad. Horses and other large animals were being taken in at Cloverdale Ranch, 2460 Cloverdale Road, in Escondido, county officials said.

Citing anonymous sources, 10News reported that investigators consider all but one of nine significant wildfires that have ravaged San Diego County this week suspicious. Sheriff Bill Gore has told reporters that all possibilities, including arson, were being considered.

"It would be pure speculation to say they they were (intentionally) set, or (ignited) by a car or an individual," Gore told news crews during a mid-afternoon briefing. "It's just too early."

Investigating the origins of the blazes will be the San Diego Metro Arson Strike Team, sheriff's Bomb-Arson Unit and individual municipal fire departments, the sheriff said.

During the news conference, Dianne Jacob, chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors, noted that the Santa Ana winds that have been howling through the region this week had diminished considerably this morning.

"But everyone should still remain vigilant and stay on standby," Jacob said.

Read updates on all San Diego County Wildfires here: Thursday San Diego County Firestorm Coverage.

—City News Service

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