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Fires Take Great Toll in San Diego

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

It is the largest evacuation in California history. Hundreds of thousands of people have now fled the wind-driven wildfires in the southern part of the state. More than 1,200 homes have burned.

And for another day, the greatest toll is around San Diego, as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: The evacuations keep coming from the tawny beach community of Del Mar to the sprawling suburbs near the Mexican border. San Diego authorities say more than half a million people have fled their homes.

MARIE WATSON: Flames coming over the mountain. Yeah, it's kind of so scary. My girlfriend came up and picked me up and we came up here.

KAHN: Before dawn, Marie Watson and Barbara Sampetti(ph) came to Qualcomm Stadium, which is usually home to the San Diego Chargers. They slept beside their car in a tent in the parking lot and are now filling up garbage bags with donated essentials.

WATSON: Food stuff and juices and...

BARBARA SAMPETTI: Water.

WATSON: Yeah.

SAMPETTI: A lot of trail mix and granola bars.

KAHN: Hundreds of volunteers have been handing out toothbrushes, sunscreen, diapers and face masks.

CHRISTINE WRIGHT: It will be 91 degrees today. It is very important. The winds will be 35 miles per hour. I'm letting you know. Get the masks while I have them. Please.

KAHN: Volunteer Christine Wright says she's never seen so many people needing help. Four years ago when fire storms killed 22 people in San Diego and destroyed more than 3600 homes, she regretted not doing more.

WRIGHT: I promised myself I would do everything. I'll help if we ever have a fire like this again.

TONY BRADLEY: Whenever you see a deck of cards like that, this is what you do. Give them that (unintelligible) they all go in the same direction.

KAHN: Local magician Tony Bradley found his own way to help out.

BRADLEY: I'm here to make everybody laugh, smile and forget about what's going on because San Diego is such a wonderful place and I've gotten so many blessings from being here in San Diego. I just want to share it.

KAHN: While many found ways to pass the hours, the waiting was too much for others.

(SOUNDBITE OF TWO-WAY RADIO)

KAHN: To the north, in the San Diego suburb of Rancho Bernardo, police began escorting residence into the charred neighborhood to retrieve prescription medicine only. Following the police car in was terrifying, says Jenny Alim(ph). She says she didn't know what she would find since they left the house so suddenly.

JENNY ALIM: We didn't have any time to grab anything except ourselves and our paperwork. Our pictures and everything - but they're here. They're here and that's important.

KAHN: The Alim's house looks just fine but down the street, one is still smoldering, and San Diego police officer Dave Brecht is checking out around the perimeter.

DAVE BRECHT: They can go through the other side (unintelligible) the flames. They're storing their stuff back up in the...

KAHN: Brecht says flames have reignited in the backyard and he needs to alert fire officials that the undamaged homes next door are once again threatened.

BRECHT: It's on the list...

KAHN: What's the list?

BRECHT: ...of houses that are starting back up. So...

KAHN: So you just call it and...

BRECHT: Call it in. Let them know. And they'll get to it when they get to it. So...

KAHN: Resources are definitely stretched thin, as more than a dozen fires continue to burn over a 300-square-mile area of Southern California.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.