SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Wildfires stoked by fierce winds burned unchecked across Southern California for a third day on Tuesday with 300,000 people in San Diego alone evacuated as flames destroyed or threatened homes from humble forest cabins to luxury villas.
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders told people to "stay at home, stay off the freeways" so fire crews and evacuees could keep moving as the winds changed course. He said about 1,000 homes in San Diego County had been destroyed.
"We are in for another very dangerous day today. We may be forced to do very quick and immediate evacuations," said Ron Lane, head of San Diego County office of emergency services.
"We no doubt are going to be issuing additional evacuation notices today," he added.
The Marine base at Camp Pendleton, one of the largest in the United States, was on alert for possible evacuation of its 60,000 people, including families.
Officials said people were cooperating and evacuating quickly, resulting in minimal loss of life.
Tens of thousands in San Diego County, including elderly evacuees from nursing homes, spent the night in the Qualcomm sports stadium or the Del Mar Fairgrounds, as did thousands of pets and horses.
Just one person has died, in a San Diego fire on Sunday, and some three dozen have been injured.
The fires, whipped by hot, dry Santa Ana winds gusting to 113 kph have swept the drought stricken region unchecked over the past two days from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border 370 km to the south.
The National Weather Service said "strong and damaging winds" will continue near Los Angeles through mid-afternoon, and high wind warnings may be issued for some areas Tuesday night. In San Diego, the strong winds fanning the flames were expected through Wednesday.
Some 300,000 acres have burned, about the size of the city of Los Angeles, overwhelming fire crews and state emergency services.
BUSH DECLARES EMERGENCY
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger summoned aid from 1,500 National Guard troops, including 200 from the Mexican border, to help with firefighting, evacuations and crowd control.
Neighboring states, including Nevada and Arizona, rushed in crews and equipment. President George W. Bush early on Tuesday declared an emergency in the state and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief in the seven counties stricken by wildfires.
Among the thousands at the Qualcomm stadium were about 300 people evacuated from nursing homes. Volunteers set up tents for families and seniors in the walkways of the stadium.
"There's no word on our house," said Don Parmaley, who was at the stadium with his wife, Rose. "We were able to find a hotel room last night (Sunday) but they had to evacuate the hotel this morning (Monday)."
The firestorms closed major state highways, schools and businesses and plumes of thick black smoke drifted across much of Southern California, blotting out the sun.
One official said the Witch Fire could prove as devastating as 2003's so-called Cedar Fire that burned 280,000 acres and killed 15 people.
A blaze in the seaside enclave of Malibu that had blackened 2,400 acres was partly contained, having destroyed 10 buildings including a landmark castle and a church.
(Additional reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego)
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