Residents Tell Tales of Evacuation

A neighbor pounding at his door woke Jim Mumford before sunrise Sunday as flames tore through eucalyptus trees in the hills surrounding his home.

Like many who live in Lakeside (search), a community in the rural mountains east of San Diego (search), Mumford had seen wildfires burn close over the years and thought he was prepared for this one.

A few minutes convinced him he couldn't save the 5,000-square-foot home he had built himself.

"A garden hose and a shovel wasn't going to work," he said.

The 46-year-old landscaper and his wife fled the 100,000-acre wildfire, the largest burning in California. The San Diego-area fire has killed eight people, including two who died in their car as they were apparently trying to escape the flames.

From the safety of a fire command center at the Lakeside Rodeo grounds, Mumford learned that his $1 million home was gone; a neighbor saw it go up in flames and jumped into a swimming pool to save himself.

Mumford said he was thankful that his children, ages 5 and 8, had spent the night at their grandmother's home.

"It's going to be hard to tell them that they have no clothes or toys," he said. "But at least they didn't feel the panic."

The roar of flames woke Lisza Pontes and her family at 3:45 a.m. She, her husband and their daughter ran from their home.

"We were literally running through fire," said Pontes, 43. "I was grabbing wet towels. Fire was at our feet. It was blazing over our heads and burning everywhere."

As they sped off in their car, they saw a neighbor's trailer home explode.

"I have no idea if they got out alive," Pontes said.

Dianne Hendricks, 48, said the smell of smoke woke her at 4:30 a.m. She looked outside and saw the sky glowing red.

She helped move seven horses from a neighbor's home, then drove to safety.

"I drove through the flames. I couldn't even tell if I was on the road or not," she said.

Hendricks said trees on her front lawn were on fire as she left. She didn't know whether her home was destroyed.

"It was like a big bomb hit," she said. "Every place the wind blew caught fire."