Wildfire evacuations called off
A wildfire that brought evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes in and around San Diego has been cancelled as darkness fell and cooled temperatures.
The blaze had surged amid high heat and dry winds in drought conditions, but all residents were told they could return home a few hours later.
Another fire 250 miles to the north in Santa Barbara County also died down after dark. All but a handful of the evacuation orders that had affected 1,200 homes and businesses earlier in the day were called off.
The rugged terrain and unseasonably warm temperatures had made firefighting difficult, but no damaged homes or injuries were reported in either fire.
San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar said: "At the point the fire is right now, we believe we have a pretty good handle on it. We hope to do some more work through the night and into tomorrow, but I think the largest part of the emergency has passed."
The flames that erupted in the fire-prone Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego quickly grew to 700 acres, driven by hot, dry Santa Ana winds.
By late afternoon, the flames ripped through canyons to approach expensive homes and new developments on the ridges. It spread to Rancho Santa Fe, one of the wealthiest US communities, known for its multimillion-pound homes, golfing and horse riding.
Black and grey smoke billowed over northern San Diego, filled with whirling ash and embers that created small spot fires. Flames crept within yards of some homes before firefighters doused them.
At least two high schools and three primary schools were evacuated, and t he city of San Diego issued between 16,000 and 17,000 evacuation orders, according to San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, including 300 that Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman described as mandatory.
Mr Gore said the sheriff's department issued an additional 5,000 evacuation orders outside city limits.
As night fell the evacuations were called off for city residents, and all county residents were told they could safely return.
In the Santa Barbara County community of Lompoc, the wildfire grew to about 700 acres.
There were downed power lines and heavy brush in the area, said David Sadecki of Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
Months of drought have left much of the landscape ready to burn. Downtown Los Angeles has recorded just 6.08in of precipitation with little time left in the July 1-June 30 rain year. That is less than half its annual average rainfall.
"Fire season last year never really ended in southern California," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
His agency has responded to more than 1,350 fires since January 1, compared with an average of 700 by this time of year.