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Southern Californians gradually return home after winds deliver second wave of destruction

  • California-Wildfires-Escondido

    A woman douses water from a hose around her home as her neighbor's home burns during a wildfire in Escondido, Calif.

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  • California-Wildfires-138

    Jeff Buchanan waters the scorched earth around a neighbor's house that burned to the ground during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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  • APTOPIX-California-Wildfires-10

    Jeff Buchanan waters the scorched earth around a neighbor's house that burned to the ground during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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  • California-Wildfires-139

    Sean Teng, right, holds open the front door as the Teng family dog Pup arrives home from wildfire evacuations, Friday, May 16, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Behind, Snow, Teng sweeps while Annie and Logan Teng walk inside. Some evacuation orders were lifted early Friday in an area near the fiercest of several wildfires in San Diego County, as crews building containment lines around the blazes hoped cooler temperatures will help them make further progress. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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  • California-Wildfires-140

    Midi Teng carries the family dog, Pup, out of the car as he arrives home from wildfire evacuations Friday, May 16, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Some evacuation orders were lifted early Friday in an area near the fiercest of several wildfires in San Diego County, as crews building containment lines around the blazes hoped cooler temperatures will help them make further progress. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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  • California-Wildfires-141

    Jack Whitlang looks out as he stands in front of his aunt's home, which burned to the foundation, during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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  • California-Wildfires-142

    Houses sit untouched above a canyon ravaged by wildfire Friday, May 16, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Some evacuation orders were lifted early Friday in an area near the fiercest of several wildfires in San Diego County, as crews building containment lines around the blazes hoped cooler temperatures will help them make further progress. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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  • California-Wildfires-143

    Sean Teng, right, holds on to the family dog, Pup, front, as his father Midi Teng, center, and sister Annie Teng, left, arrive home from wildfire evacuations Friday, May 16, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Some evacuation orders were lifted early Friday in an area near the fiercest of several wildfires in San Diego County, as crews building containment lines around the blazes hoped cooler temperatures will help them make further progress. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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  • California-Wildfires-144

    Nina Huang, left, greets her neighbor, Snow Teng, right, in the middle of their street after coming home from wildfire evacuations Friday, May 16, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Some evacuation orders were lifted early Friday in an area near the fiercest of several wildfires in San Diego County, as crews building containment lines around the blazes hoped cooler temperatures will help them make further progress. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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California-Wildfires-Escondido

A woman douses water from a hose around her home as her neighbor's home burns during a wildfire in Escondido, Calif.

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ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Residents had just returned to their rustic homes on acre-sized lots one day after being ordered to evacuate, feeling confident that firefighters gained an upper hand.

Then dry winds whipped flames into a wide valley, destroying a second wave of homes in fires that have struck the San Diego region this week. As evacuation orders were gradually lifted today, residents returned home again, this time to rolling hills of charred eucalyptus, pine and oak trees.

“It didn’t look like it would even come close,” said Byram Frost, 33, recalling how he prepared to leave his wife and 2- and 3-year-old children to work at his family-owned lumber yard Thursday.

“We thought for sure it was gone,” said Lauren Frost, 31, whose family left their home for the second time in two days Thursday and watched on television as flames burned across the street from their ranch-style house.

The Frost’s house survived, but two were reduced to rubble on Mount Whitney Street in Escondido, about 30 miles north of San Diego. Nine fires in the region have destroyed at least eight houses, an 18-unit condominium complex and two businesses since Tuesday — a figure that seems likely to rise after Thursday’s flare-up.

The most destructive fires started in Carlsbad — a densely populated coastal suburb of 110,000 people where a badly burned body was found Thursday in a transient camp — and San Marcos, a neighboring suburb of 85,000 people where strip malls and large housing tracts mix with older homes whose residents cherish their large lots and country living.

Homeowners watched warily as flames burned on a San Marcos hilltop Wednesday night toward Escondido, but the next morning, many believed the danger had passed. Pam Searles, 57, felt comfortable enough to run errands, leaving her cats in the garage.

“We saved your house,” a firefighter told Searles after she avoided roadblocks and returned home on Mount Whitney Street. Trees on her lawn had burned and she sprayed hot spots with a hose.

“I just thought it was a goner,” she remembered thinking as she returned home.

Many of the tens of thousands who evacuated had fled before during regional firestorms in 2003 and 2007 that destroyed thousands of homes.

Nelly Dowlatshi, who lost her home in the 2007 fires, felt the fear return as she scrambled for medicine, important documents and family photos and crammed them into a suitcase Wednesday night at her small senior community in Escondido.

“I didn’t know what to do. I just grabbed everything that I could. The most (important) thing for me was the pictures. I grabbed everything, throwing it in a suitcase,” Dowlatshi, 75, said today at an evacuation center.

Al Said of Escondido refused to evacuate and helped firefighters save his home with a garden hose. Two of his neighbors lost theirs.

“That house burned and the house next to it burned,” he said. “By the grace of God and the hard work of these firefighters, they came in and they saved my house right here. It was pretty touch and go. Just an awesome sight when you see that fire come through. It’s just terrifying. I’m standing today so I’m happy for that, but yet I look at my neighbor’s property and what do you say? Just devastating.”

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