California wildfires: Thousands abandon homes as smoke and flames across city of San Diego create ‘scene from Armageddon’

Evacuated homeowners describe smoke blocking out the sun and acres of scorched ground

Thousands of people have been forced to abandon their homes in Southern California as rising temperatures and strong winds burned right into the heart of San Diego.

California is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history, and a state of emergency was declared yesterday by governor Jerry Brown after the outbreak of another nine fires.

San Diego officials said the blaze was now “right in the middle of the city”, and TV footage showed thick black smoke rising from several homes and drifting out across the Pacific.

There had been hopes on Tuesday evening that the fires had largely been contained, and authorities lifted all evacuation notices and declared schools open.

Yet hours later one resident told the Los Angeles Times the city looked “like a scene from Armageddon”, with emergency centres set up at community halls and schools and thousands told to leave their homes.

Officials said they were growing increasingly concerned about a fresh blaze that broke out in the late afternoon in San Marcos, where residents and students at a campus of California State University were ordered to evacuate.

“The fire was right above campus. I could see it reaching over part of the hill, this really dark smoke. It was almost like an explosion,” said 19-year-old Grant Rapoza, who was in his dorm room when the school issued evacuation notices.

Another fire broke out near a marine base north of San Diego, prompting its evacuation. By Wednesday evening that blaze alone had burned through roughly 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) of land.

San Diego Gas and Electric reported that more than 2,300 customers were cut off from electricity, and the combination of fire risk and blackouts also saw a Legoland amusement park evacuated.

The fires started after months of drought in the arid US state, where unseasonably warm temperatures have made the land tinder dry. Parts of Los Angeles have recorded just 15.4 cm of rain since last July – less than half the average rainfall.

Many schools in the San Diego district said they would remain closed on Thursday, though firefighters were hopeful of being able to contain the latest fires during the cooler evening.

“Tonight, like last night, we expect the winds to calm down,” said Dianne Jacob, a San Diego County official.

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