A wildfire approaches homes in San Marcos, California, on Wednesday. Photo: AP
San Diego: Homes burned to the ground and thousands of people were ordered to evacuate a coastal California community on Wednesday, as a wind-lashed wildfire roared out of control.
The fire, which erupted shortly before 11am in Carlsbad, some 40 kilometres north of San Diego, quickly became the most pressing battle for crews fighting flames across the south of the state amid soaring temperatures and hot Santa Ana winds.
City officials told reporters at an afternoon news conference that more than 20 structures had been destroyed, at least three of them homes.
A firefighter watches the so-called Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad, southern California, where 15,000 homes and businesses were told to evacuate on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
At least a dozen more homes and an apartment building were damaged and local TV images showed several in flames, with thick black smoke filling the sky and drifting over the Pacific Ocean.
The fires flared as California entered the height of wildfire season in the midst of one of the state's worst droughts on record, setting the stage for what fire officials fear could be a particularly intense and dangerous year.
Some 15,000 homes and businesses in and around Carlsbad received the directive to evacuate ahead of the flames, according to the city, and emergency shelters were set up at area schools and community centres.
A firefighting helicopter drops water in Fallbrook, California. Photo: Reuters
The Legoland amusement park was also evacuated, spokeswoman Julie Estrada said, mostly because of power outages in the area. San Diego Gas and Electric reported that an estimated 2000 residents in and around Carlsbad were without electricity.
Southern California Edison said 13 employees were also evacuated from the largely shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station some 32 kilometres north of Carlsbad as a precaution, but were allowed to return later in the afternoon.
"It's right in the middle of the city," California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said of the so-called Poinsettia Fire, which had blackened more than 40 hectares by mid-afternoon.
Meanwhile a second fire, called the Tomahawk, broke out on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base north of San Diego and had charred more than 280 hectares by mid-afternoon, prompting evacuation of military housing and a naval weapons station.
The new fires erupted just hours after crews, aided by diminished overnight winds, made substantial headway against the so-called Bernardo Fire, which had forced thousands to flee their homes in and around San Diego for several hours in the afternoon and evening on Tuesday.
By daybreak on Wednesday, firefighters managed to establish containment lines around 25 per cent of the Bernardo Fire's perimeter, with all evacuation orders lifted and area schools reopened, according to fire officials.
Since erupting late on Tuesday morning, the Bernardo fire has scorched more than 607 hectares, and officials said dangerous conditions persist.