Some people are returning home to face a charred landscape Friday near the area of a string of dangerous wildfires in San Diego County.
County officials said residents of two neighborhoods in a suburb north of the city were allowed to return home as crews build containment lines around the fires with the hope that cooler temperatures will slow the spread.
A flare-up Thursday in the suburb of San Marcos forced new evacuation notices to more than 18,000 homes as flames raced through tinder-dry brush on hillsides. That fire was 10% contained Friday morning.
Nine fires have destroyed at least eight houses, an 18-unit condominium complex and two businesses since Tuesday. The hardest-hit areas were in San Marcos and Carlsbad, a suburb of 110,000 people that lifted evacuation orders late Thursday.
Story: Wildfires spawn fire whirls
Police are investigating the causes of the fires.
Two teens were arrested Thursday evening after police say they started at least two brush fires in San Diego's Escondido area, as a number of larger fires rage across the county.
Police arrested 19-year-old Isaiah Silva of Escondido and a 17-year-old juvenile on suspicion of attempted arson after a witness unsuccessfully tried to chase the teens, who were on bicycles, NBC San Diego reports.
Lt. Neal Griffin of Escondido police said investigators could not yet connect them to any of the larger fires currently burning across the county that have have driven tens of thousands from their homes and shut down schools and amusement parks.
A red flag warning, which means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly, are in effect in Hanford, Oxnard and San Diego, according to the National Weather Service.
Flames have charred more than 15 square miles and caused more than $20 million in damage.
Firefighters found a badly burned body Thursday in a transient camp in Carlsbad — the first apparent fatality — and a Camp Pendleton Fire Department firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion while battling a blaze on the Marine base.
The fires are fed by brush and trees left brittle by prolonged drought. They are also being whipped by a Santa Ana wind system that reverses the normal flow of wind from the Pacific Ocean and creates tinderbox fire conditions.
Tourists coming to San Diego face a somewhat surreal situation. "The view of the fires on the fly in was a little bit terrifying," said Sam Pfeifle, who lives in Maine.
"It's also unsettling to show up at your in-laws only to find that their bags are packed in anticipation of being evacuated," he said.
Pfeifle's family spent the day at the beach Thursday, which was packed because many schools were closed due to the fires. But "other than some haze from the smoke" everything appeared normal. "Hate to think of people having their homes burn down not far away," he said.
As of Thursday, for the first time this century, the entire state of California is in a severe drought – or worse. The three worst levels of drought are severe, extreme and exceptional: 100% of the state is now in one of those three categories: (23.31% severe, 51.92.% extreme and 24.77% exceptional.)
A flare-up Thursday prompted 18,400 new evacuation notices in and around San Marcos, a north San Diego, suburb. But with cooler temperatures forecast, there was an overwhelming sense that far more damage could have been inflicted on a region of more than 3 million people.
It could take months to find the causes of the blazes concentrated in the northern San Diego and its northern suburbs, from the coast to areas 10 to 15 miles inland.
California firefighters say cooler weather and calmer winds are helping them get a handle on the dangerous fires around San Diego County. They also want to know why so many fires sprung up at once. (May 16) AP
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said arson will be among the many possibilities that investigators will look at in trying to determine what caused nine fires to break out during a heat wave, including eight in one day.
Contributing: Beth Weise in San Francisco; Doyle Rice in McLean, Va.; Associated Press