Fierce winds lead to 'firenadoes' in California

(CNN/KYTX) --  Firefighters continue to make progress against several wildfires burning across San Diego County. The good news: Temperatures and winds across scorched parts of southern California are starting to subside.

The bad news: Unruly wildfires keep barreling across the region, destroying homes and spawning "firenadoes" -- funnels of flames that look like tornadoes.

With 10,000 acres of land already devoured, thousands of homes are still in jeopardy as at least six fires rage in the San Diego area.

"It's scariest at the moment, with the fire now like 100 yards from the homes," San Marcos resident Kevin Giesey said. "I worry about the embers jumping into the grass next to the homes. It's frightening."

In just a few hours, fires in San Marcos went from minor blazes to raging infernos, filling the sky with bright orange flames and solid black smoke.

Unusually fierce winds mixed with the flames to spawn firenadoes. And grass parched by California's severe drought meant any stray spark could start another blaze.

CNN's Gary Tuchman saw a wildfire in San Marcos leap hundreds of yards in just seconds.

"It's a moving target, as far as estimating size," San Marcos Fire Chief Brett Van Wey said late Thursday. "It's only about 5% contained, though."

At least 5,000 homes have been evacuated in San Marcos.

Now, nearby cities such as Escondido are also at risk.

More than 15,000 Escondido residents have been told to evacuate. The evacuation zone included a 12-story hospital, Palomar Medical Center West, but that facility wasn't evacuated.

"It's just logistically hard to transport that many patients in a short period of time," Escondido Community Relations Manager Joyce Masterson said. "The hospital is along the foothills and about three miles away from the fire."

That hospital announced on Twitter that its emergency room had closed to new patients because of the flames.

The fire department was "in place to do everything possible to protect the hospital," Masterson added.

The city of Carlsbad's website reported was what apparently the first fire-related death Thursday.

"During a hot spot check, firefighters were alerted to a transient encampment in the area of Ambrosia and Calliandra," the city's statement said. "On checking the area, firefighters located a badly burned body. Further details about the deceased are unknown at this time and the investigation is ongoing."

Two of the Southern California wildfires have spread to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Much of the land on the base is open acreage used for training exercises.


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