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San Diego Fires: What Travelers Will See

Carol Sottili

The subject line in my friend Linda's email yesterday said it all: FIRE!!!

"Here's what I woke up to at 2:30 a.m.," she wrote. "James called, 'Mom, you'd better get up. It's on its way." A photo accompanying the email showed a ridge of flames on the hill above her Bonita home, south of San Diego. Linda's email was just one in a steady stream that have arrived from friends and family as I study the fire maps and try to figure out which one of my friends is being impacted. As a former Californian who spent many days covering similar fires in Malibu, San Bernadino and San Diego, I have a personal connection.


Firefighters attempt to control the advance of the Harris Fire, in Jamul, in California's San Diego county Wednesday morning. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Friends who live north, east and south of the city are starting to filter back to their homes as the direction of the fires change to even more rural areas. Linda, for example, is back home. But what about the downtown San Diego region, center of the area's busy tourism industry?

People at the scene say that it's business as usual in some ways: Unlike Malibu, where flames marched all the way to the sea, the fires have mostly stayed in the outlying canyons and hills, fairly far from the waterfront areas, which include San Diego proper. But, while the fires never threatened most of the city's tourism infrastructure, they have impacted the tourist experience beyond the smell of acrid smoke that wafts over the entire region (air quality is expected to remain poor until at least Saturday or Sunday).

A quick rundown:
* San Diego Airport (www.san.org) remains open, but "travelers are advised to contact their respective airlines for information on possible delays or cancellations."

* Many airlines have relaxed their flight change policies, but only for a short period. United, for example, has suspended change fees for flights to/from 11 international and regional airports, including Los Angeles and San Diego, for travel through Oct. 25 (tickets had to have been issued by Oct. 22): Now you can change travel to within seven days of y our original departure date without incurring change fees. Check with your airline, as each one has a different set of rules.

*While thousands of residents are streaming back to their homes today as evacuation orders are lifted, check with your hotel before making the trip. Just about every hotel in the region was fully booked with evacuated guests, so make sure you have a room.

* Many roads remain closed, so if you were planning a drive up the coast, think again. Fires in Camp Pendleton this morning closed Interstate 5, the major artery between Los Angeles and San Diego. (An alternative route is Interstate 15, farther inland). State Route 94, which travels east-west, is also closed. Go to www.sandiego.gov/newsflash/firealert.shtml for updates.

* Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) has suspended service between San Diego and San Juan Capistrano, so there is no way to go north of Oceanside, Calif. via train.

* While some tourism sites, including Seaport Village and the San Diego Zoo, remain open, others are closed. The San Diego Wild Animal Park plans to reopen Thursday, as does Legoland. SeaWorld is closed, and no reopen date has been announced. For a full list, go to www.sandiego.org. (No major attractions in Los Angeles have been closed by fires: Go to www.visitlosangeles.info for details).

Our final advice: If you're planning to visit San Diego in the next day or two, call your airline and hotel before you leave. And check the latest fire updates via www.sandiego.org. If your hotel is in the downtown San Diego area, away from the major fire areas, and bad air isn't a concern, you may want to forge on, especially if you don't have the luxury of delaying your trip. Shop at Seaport Village, go to the zoo, ride a bike from Mission Beach to Pacific Beach, stroll downtown La Jolla. There's still plenty to do in San Diego.

Anyone out there have any reports on the ground from the region for area residents who may be heading in that direction?

2 P.M. UPDATE: Other San Diego attractions that remain closed today include Harbor Excursions, the Maritime Museum, Cabrillo National Monument, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Old Town Trolley Tours. In Balboa Park, remaining closed are the Japanese Friendship Garden, Old Globe, Air & Space Museum, Automotive Museum, Model Railroad Museum, Museum of Man and Prado Restaurant; the Natural History Museum has reopened and the Museum of Art remains open. Several Indian casinos remain closed, including Barona, Harrah's, Golden Acorn, Pauma, Santa Ysabel, Viejas Outlet and Valley View. Updates: www.sandiego.org.

By Carol Sottili |  October 24, 2007; 11:59 AM ET  | Category:  Carol Sottili
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I went to sandiego.org and couldn't find anything other than the usual come-on-in-y'all tourist info. We decided to cancel our family reunion eventhough we'll lost a few thousand dollars in deposits and nonrefundable tickets. It's just too dicey and seems pretty tough to get actual info without having a contact on the scene. We are very concerned for all of those in the area and so grateful for the firefighters. Peace.

Posted by: cpatrick1919 | November 2, 2007 12:14 AM

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