Grambling State University students from Southern California are glued to the television – as are others nationwide – anxiously awaiting updates from friends and loved ones. The devastating wildfires in Southern California have caused at least $1 billion in damage in San Diego County alone, officials said Wednesday, as easing wind gave firefighters hope that they could begin to gain ground against the flames.
Authorities were investigating arson as a possible cause of at least one of the wildfires. Orange County sheriff’s deputies and FBI agents searched a home Wednesday as part of the investigation, a law enforcement official said. Other blazes were believed to have been started by downed power lines and a car fire.
Harold Trotter, a GSU freshman from San Diego, said he’s not sure whether the fires are being started by arsonists. “I’ve heard many friends say that the fires were started by arsonists because most of the fires are not in the downtown area of San Diego, but in the urban areas,” he said.
The fires, in their fifth day, have destroyed at least 1,600 homes and caused at least a half-million people to flee – the largest evacuation in state history. At least 1,200 of the damaged homes were in San Diego County, and officials believe that number will rise.
Trotter said that although his parents have been allowed to return home, his grandmother is still evacuated from her house.
“My parents are panicking because they can’t really use cell phones due to the influx of firefighters in the area,” he said, noting that his parents don’t want to hinder communication for emergency personnel.
Orange County Fire Chief Chip Prather told reporters that firefighters’ lives were threatened because too few crews were on the ground. He said a quick deployment of aircraft could have corralled a massive blaze near Irvine.
“It is an absolute fact: Had we had more air resources, we would have been able to control this fire,” Prather said.
When asked if being so far from San Diego is taking a toll on him, Trotters said, “I’m trying not to worry about the fire.