Calif. State Parks Fill with Fire Victims
Rangers at state parks in and around San Clemente provided refuge for a second straight night to evacuees from Southern California wildfires, according to the Orange County Register.
The 161-space San Mateo Campground straddling San Clemente's border with Camp Pendleton filled Monday night with evacuees, as did the 150-space San Clemente State Beach campground, said Rich Haydon, a superintendent with the state parks department. Another 30-40 vehicles took refuge in the San Clemente park's day-use parking lot, he said, and Doheny State Beach in Dana Point filled its 121-space campground while accepting another 30 vehicles in the day-use parking lot.
"We'll probably be full again tonight," Haydon said late Tuesday.
The state was waiving the entry and campground fees for motorists arriving from the fire impact areas.
"We had a lot of people come in that were not in self-contained vehicles," Haydon said. "We had approximately 50 sets of tents and sleeping bags. We broke that gear out and got that to the elderly or families with children."
Park personnel also began referring new arrivals to a care-and-intake shelter that opened in El Toro. Some departed, Haydon said, but the parks were soon backfilled with other evacuees.
There were also some registered campers. At San Clemente State Beach, about 120 of the 150 campsites were occupied by evacuees.
Haydon said the park personnel will refer fire victims to more Orange County shelters as they open. But with possible impending evacuations in Del Mar, Encinitas, Solana Beach and south Carlsbad, he anticipates that the demand for places to camp may increase.
Faced with unrelenting winds whipping wildfires into a frenzy across Southern California, firefighters conceded defeat on many fronts Tuesday to an unstoppable force that has chased more than 500,000 people away, according to The Associated Press.
Unless the shrieking Santa Ana winds subside, and that's not expected for at least another day, fire crews say they can do little more than try to wait it out and react – tamping out spot fires and chasing ribbons of airborne embers to keep new fires from flaring.
"If it's this big and blowing with as much wind as it's got, it'll go all the way to the ocean before it stops," said San Diego Fire Capt. Kirk Humphries. "We can save some stuff but we can't stop it."
Tentacles of unpredictable, shifting flame have burned across nearly 640 square miles, killing one person, destroying more than 1,300 homes and prompting the biggest evacuation in California history, from north of Los Angeles, through San Diego to the Mexican border.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the flames were threatening 68,000 more homes.
"We have had an unfortunate situation that we've had three things come together: very dry areas, very hot weather and then a lot of wind," Schwarzenegger said. "And so this makes the perfect storm for a fire."
In Rancho Santa Fe, a suburb north of San Diego, houses burned just yards from where fire crews fought to contain flames engulfing other properties. In the mountain community of Lake Arrowhead, cabins and vacation homes went up in flames with no fire crews in sight.
"These winds are so strong, we're not trying to fight this fire," said firefighter Jim Gelrud, an engineer from Vista, Calif. "We're just trying to save the buildings."
More than a dozen wildfires blowing across Southern California since Sunday have also injured more than 45 people, including 21 firefighters. The U.S. Forest Service earlier reported a fire death in Los Angeles County's Santa Clarita area, but officials said Tuesday that information was erroneous.
In San Diego County, authorities placed evacuation calls to more than 346,000 homes, said Luis Monteagudo, a spokesman for the county's emergency effort. Based on census and other county data, 560,000 people were ordered to leave, said Ron Roberts, chairman of the San Diego Board of Supervisors.
"It's basically a mass migration here in San Diego County. The numbers we're seeing are staggering," said Luis Monteagudo, a spokesman for the county's emergency effort.
By Tuesday evening, some 50,000 people in San Diego were being allowed to return homes near the ocean as well as portions of the city of Poway, Roberts said. No homes were lost in these neighborhoods.
President Bush, who planned to visit the region Thursday, declared a federal emergency for seven counties, a move that will speed disaster-relief efforts.
The sweeping devastation was reminiscent of blazes that tore through Southern California four years ago, killing 22 and destroying 3,640 homes.