San Diego hit by wildfires

The flames that forced more than half a million San Diego County residents from their homes have not threatened La Jolla, but the impacts of the wildfires - from the golden-brown haze that enveloped the community early in the week to the throngs of evacuees in local motels - have made their way to the community.

As of Tuesday, the threat of wildfire had only come near the Jewel in the form of evacuation notices in communities to the north, including Solana Beach, Del Mar and Encinitas, and to the northeast, including Rancho Bernardo and Scripps Ranch.

But the massive cloud of smoke drifting west toward the sea and the huge numbers of evacuees ensured that almost everyone in San Diego was affected either directly or indirectly by what will go down as one of the worst wildfires in California’s history.

By Tuesday, Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla had treated nearly two dozen people for respiratory distress resulting from the poor air quality caused by the fires. UCSD Medical Center was also treating several people with respiratory distress, and its regional burn center at its Hillcrest location was treating 16 people as of Tuesday. Of those, four were firefighters. Two firefighters and seven civilians were listed in critical condition at the burn center.

Lisa Ohmstede of Scripps Memorial Hospital suggested that those experiencing respiratory discomfort should stay indoors and run their air conditioning if necessary. Those who have not been affected by the poor air quality have been advised to refrain from using their air conditioning if at all possible and to generally try to conserve power, as the fires had destroyed major electrical transformers that supply power to communities throughout he county.

Firefighters were drawn from locations around the state to help battle the blaze, including La Jolla. Fire Station 13 on Nautilus Street was empty for much of the day Tuesday, and only a minimal number of firefighters have been manning the station since the wildfires began.

Evacuees - human and otherwise - were pouring into La Jolla hotels.

“We’ve opened the doors to dogs and cats,” said Alan Schwertfeger, front desk associate at the Empress Hotel on Fay Avenue in the Village. “We don’t usually take them, but we’re accepting all kinds of pets and all kinds of refugees.”

Schwertfeger added things were working out to accommodate refugees, as much of the hotel’s usual business clientele that would ordinarily be there for conferences and meetings were changing their plans.

“A lot of them have just canceled everything,” he said. “We’re filling right back up with refugees.”

The situation was much the same at Best Western Inn by the Sea on Fay Avenue.

“We haven’t seen a lot of cancellations here,” said Sheldon Joyner, the hotel’s general manager. “The first fire victims got here as early as 5 a.m. (on Monday). We filled up quickly. We’re pretty much full through Saturday (Oct. 27).”

Joyner added his hotel, too, has altered its usual no-pets policy.

“We have allowed some small animals as a concession to their circumstances,” he said.

He said, as of Tuesday morning, Oct. 23, the hotel was fairly full. He added there were probably as many as 20 evacuees, at that time, staying at Best Western.

The front desk at Estancia Hotel Hotel & Spa at 9700 N. Torrey Pines Road across from UCSD reported the hotel was completely full on Monday, Oct. 22. They said a lot of hotel guests, who were planning to leave on Tuesday, Oct. 23, were unable to do so because of the wildfire emergency. Staff said the hotel was trying to accommodate as many people as it could, making them as comfortable as possible.