Fires force evacuation of more than 300,000

THOUSANDS more residents were ordered to evacuate their homes yesterday, bringing the number of people chased away by the flames that have engulfed southern California to at least 300,000.

By day three, the dozen wildfires had burned more than 700 homes and set 245,957 acres ablaze. Today’s forecast called for hotter temperatures and more explosive Santa Ana gusts.

The blazes spread so quickly that even hotels serving as temporary shelters for evacuees had to be evacuated.

Wanda Tomkinson, 79, fled the Doubletree hotel in Del Mar with her husband after employees called each room to tell customers they had to leave. The couple said they were relying on a family friend to take them in.

Evacuations were being announced in one community after another as firefighters found themselves overwhelmed by gale-force Santa Ana winds, some gusting to 70 mph.

As dawn broke, authorities issued a new round of mandatory evacuations to residents in parts of San Diego County. About 3,800 homes were told to evacuate in Wildcat Canyon and Multh Valley, and another 1,800 in North Jamul and Indian Springs.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said 274,000 homes and at least 300,000 residents were asked to clear out in San Diego County alone.

At Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, about 40 aircraft that included F-18 fighter jets, C-130 cargo planes and Marine helicopters were evacuated to other bases in California and Arizona.

President George Bush declared a federal emergency for seven counties, a move that will speed disaster-relief efforts. He also sent federal disaster officials to California.

The wildfires claimed one life, in San Diego County, and injured 42 people, at least 16 of whom were firefighters.

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