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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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'I didn't know if we'd make it': Homes and horses burned as 200,000 flee wildfires in California

Evacuations have been ordered in several areas.

A firefighter along West Lilac Road in Bonsall, California
A firefighter along West Lilac Road in Bonsall, California
Image: Howard Lipin/Zuma Press/PA Images

RETIREMENT COMMUNITIES BUILT on golf courses, race horse stables and other usually serene sites were engulfed by flames as the San Diego area became the latest front in California’s wildfire fight.

The fire broke out yesterday amid dry, hot, windy conditions across the region that would be extreme for any season, but are particularly unusual so close to Christmas.

It exceeded six square miles (16 square kilometers) in a matter of hours and burned dozens of houses as it tore through the tightly packed Rancho Monserate Country Club community in the small city of Fallbrook, known for its avocado orchards and horse ranches.

Three people were burned while escaping the flames, Captain Nick Schuler of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. The extent of their injuries is not known.

Meanwhile, firefighters in Ventura — 130 miles (209 kilometers) to the north — tried to corral the largest and most destructive fire in the state, which has destroyed 430 buildings. The so-called Thomas Fire has grown to 180 square miles (466 square kilometers) since it broke out Monday. Fire crews made enough progress against large fires around Los Angeles to lift most evacuation orders.

Some 200,000 people have been forced to leave their homes as a result of the fires.

The fire north of San Diego, driven by winds above 35 mph (56 kph), razed rows of trailer homes in the retirement community, leaving charred and mangled metal in its wake.

It wasn’t immediately known what sparked the fire next to State Highway 76, but strong winds carried it across six lanes to the other side.

Evacuations were ordered in the area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and schools and casinos were being used as shelters.

Horses 

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 stables if barns caught fire, Mac McBride of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club said.

Herds of horses galloped past flaming palm trees in their chaotic escape of a normally idyllic place. Not all survived.

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 the morning.”

Along the coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara, tiny beach communities were under siege as fires leapt from steep hillsides across US Highway 101.

“We drove through a wall of flames,” Wendy Frank said, describing her ordeal after evacuating her horses from Ojai on Wednesday night.

“I didn’t know if we’d make it. I just put the accelerator down. I know we were going over 100 mph (160 kph), we could have been going much more, and just hoped for the best.”

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Associated Press

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