San Diego-area residents allowed to return home as wildfire calms

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Wind-driven wildfire rages in San Diego. May 13, 2014

A wind-driven wildfire rages in San Diego on May 13, 2014, forcing 20,000 homes to be evacuated.

SAN DIEGO — The threat of a Southern California wildfire eased late Tuesday as authorities lifted evacuation orders and said residents could return home.

“At the point that the fire is right now, we have a pretty good handle on it,” San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar said. “We hope to do some more work through the night … but I think that the largest part of the emergency has passed.”

The strong winds that fanned the flames throughout the day had calmed, according to the fire chief.

The fire has burned 800 acres and was 5 percent contained, according to Mainar.

“We don’t lose any lives tonight, and we didn’t lose any homes,” he said.

At one point, 5,000 evacuation notices were issued and parents were told to pick up their children from three elementary schools because of the fire.

“It has been, to say the least, a very challenging day for local fire agencies and law enforcement agencies,” Mainar said. “It is unusual in May to have wind-driven fires like this that prove to be such a challenge to contain.”

Rancho Santa Fe Fire District Chief Tony Michel agreed, saying there’s a long, hot summer ahead.

“This is going to be a pretty severe fire season,” he said. “We’re in a prolonged drought.”

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for areas around San Diego through 8 p.m. Wednesday. As the agency noted, “a red flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly,” with strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures feeding into “extreme fire behavior.”

Temperatures in the Southern California city are forecast to peak in the mid-90s Wednesday and Thursday with no sign of rain, before cooling somewhat later in the week.