FALLBROOK, Calif. – A wildfire that doubled in size overnight moved onto a Marine Corps base Monday after burning dozens of homes and injuring 11 people in a wealthy enclave of ranch homes north of San Diego.
With winds calmer Monday than the day before, the fire grew from 2,000 to 4,000 acres and continued its northern course to Camp Pendleton, where base fire crews were ready to take it on.
"It's a huge base," said a spokesman, Lt. Greg Scott. "It's like a town, so we've got to be prepared."
No structures or people on the base were threatened but the blaze has already burned an area on the eastern end covered with dry brush and rugged hills, Scott said.
The base covers 125,000 acres and is home to more than 30,000 Marines.
The fire was reported Sunday about 60 miles north of San Diego. Residents led horses away and others fled with virtually nothing as flames raced through a hilly area of ranches, avocado groves and homes valued at up to $1 million.
About 40 structures were burned, most of them homes, said Capt. Rick Mann of the North County Fire District.
The blaze was only 5 percent contained by Monday morning. More than 600 firefighters were on the line. The cause of the blaze was unknown.
Eleven people were taken to hospitals, including six who suffered smoke inhalation and hypothermia when they jumped into a swimming pool to escape the flames, Mann said. Ten of the injured were treated and released.
Pete Jespersen grabbed an American flag and held it up to his face as he ran through heavy smoke to escape his in-laws' home.
"I tried to save the house, but it was no use," said Jespersen, who sprayed water on the structure. Soot covered his face and arms.
"It just came so fast," said Ralph Cox, 51, who was trapped in his adobe house when fire raced up a hillside covered with manzanita scrub and citrus trees. He said he heard an explosion before flames surrounded his home.
"It was just a big pop and a solid wall of fire," said Cox, who was rescued by firefighters who made an escape path out of the house.
About 100 people were displaced by the fire, including some evacuated from an officers' housing area at the Naval Weapons Station in Fallbrook.
The fire came within 500 yards of the housing, spokesman Gregg Smith said. Ammunition and other weapons stores on the base are protected inside structures that can withstand fire, said Smith.
A school was opened as a shelter but most fire victims sought refuge overnight in private homes.
The blaze was driven by Santa Ana winds that gusted up to 60 mph. The gusts whipped to 100 mph in other parts of Southern California over the weekend. The strong winds overturned big-rigs, downed power lines and knocked over a tree Saturday that killed a tennis player in Simi Valley.