Updated at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
The Cocos Fire grew overnight from 1,200 acres to 3,018, according to the San Marcos Fire Department. But it is now 10 percent contained instead of 5, a spokesman said Friday.
Three homes were destroyed by flames south of state Route 78 Thursday afternoon as fire crews struggled to push back the North County blaze, the new emergency focus 24 hours after authorities confronted the Poinsettia Fire.
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Blistering winds fanned the swiftly moving wildfire toward west Escondido, causing thousands to be evacuated and dozens of roads closed in surrounding communities, with containment at only 5 percent. An estimated 1,200 acres have burned.
Late Thursday, Escondido police announced arrests of two Escondido teens for setting a fire at about 7:30 p.m. at Kit Carson Park near Interstate 15 and Bear Valley Parkway.
The fire was extinguished quickly. Escondido police Chief Craig Carter identified one suspect as Isaiah Silva, 19, but withheld the identity of the other because he is 17.
They are also suspected of riding up on bicycles and starting a blaze on South Escondido Boulevard earlier that a resident quickly put out. A resident spotted them at the park as well.
The chief was cautious about their possible connection to the greater San Diego County wildfires.
“We’re not prepared to connect them to any other reported fires,” Carter said.
The evacuation notice for Lake San Marcos was lifted, including areas south of state Route 78 and west of Via Vera Cruz.
But as firefighters continued to confront the greater Cocos Fire, SDG&E turned off electricity to east Escondido for safety reasons. The outages were in an area southwest of Grand Avenue and Date Street and northeast of Mission Avenue and Ash Street. In each instance, up to 500 utility users were affected.
Meanwhile, on-and off-ramps to state Route 78 were re-opened, according to the city of Escondido.
A home burned in Harmony Grove near Mount Whitney Road and Country Club Drive in an area between San Marcos and Escondido. News footage showed flames tearing over hillsides near Cal State San Marcos and engulfing a large home on Phoenix Way. CBS8 reported flames reaching Coronado Hills Drive and Denise Court.
A portion of Del Dios Highway was closed down between Via Rancho Parkway and Rancho Drive just west of Escondido so the area can be evacuated, according to the county. (See full list of street closures below)
At an early evening fire update, officials urged residents to obey if any evacuation notices are issued and not to fly personal drones over the blazes, citing the danger to planes that are dropping retardants or other materials.
Sheriffs officials said some residents who had disregarded earlier notices, then called 911 for rescue, which hampers fire efforts.
Ground and aerial fire fighting efforts were under way in a desperate attempt to gain control of the spreading blaze, which had been only 5 percent contained Thursday morning. Military aircrafts joined the efforts.
Calmer conditions overnight gave way to high temperatures and shifting winds Thursday that caused the wildfire to erupt again. The wind advisory expired at 5 p.m., a condition that firefighters hope will aid their efforts.
Nearly 76,000 evacuation notices went to residents of Harmony Grove, the west side of Escondido and beyond because of the Cocos Fire, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Reverse 911 calls began to go out to residents of Del Dios and Mt. Israel about 2:10 p.m. as the Rancho Santa Fe Fire District ordered those communities to be evacuated.
About 1:45 p.m. the Escondido Police Department ordered residents living north and west of W. Valley Parkway between Via Rancho Parkway and state Route 78 to evacuate to Escondido High School, and directed Palomar Medical Center West on Citracado Parkway to shelter in place.
Palomar health officials said in a statement that “Everyone is on close watch. If officials determine an evacuation is necessary, the hospital is ready and will work with local health agencies to ensure all patients are transferred to other county hospitals safely.”
Rady Children’s Hospital has shut down its medical facility and urgent care clinic at 625 W. Citracado Parkway in Escondido because of the nearby Cocos Fire. A spokesman said families with medical needs should go to the main hospital at 3020 Children’s Way.
Also, Stone Brewing has tweeted that it is evacuating its facility in Citracado Parkway.
In San Marcos, residents of Trilogy Street, Aurora Drive and San Elijo Streets were ordered out about 12:15 p.m., and mobile home parks on La Moree Road and Barham Drive were also evacuated.
News crews on the ground reported the fire advancing on La Moree Road, with homes in danger. Teams of fire fighting helicopters dropped water on the area as crews fought to save houses and gain control of the blaze.
The North County Transit District reported delays of 15 minutes and said its Sprinter train will not stop at Cal State San Marcos because of a series of flare-ups from the Cocos Fire. The Sprinter will serve all other stations.
The Cocos Fire has charred at least 1,000 acres and leveled several homes south of state Route 78 since Wednesday. It has become 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 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, 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 as well.
Schuler said the new 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, 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. That number had risen to 228 by the evening briefing.
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; and
— 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.
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.
— City News Service contributed to this report.
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