(CBS/AP) Fighting searing heat and flames, Rancho Bernardo resident Joe Fiore battled to save his home.
"We watched this fire get so close. It just came over Battle Mountain in a matter of a few minutes," a dazed, burned and soot-covered Fiore told CBS News affiliate KCAL. "The palm trees caught on fire. They went up like torches."
"I was afraid to stay," Fiore says, his voice cracking. "But I was actually more afraid to leave."
His house is charred but intact. He is one of the lucky ones.
Walls of wind-whipped flames bedeviled firefighters as fires roared from mountain passes to the edges of the state's celebrated coastline, spreading so quickly that even hotels serving as temporary shelters for evacuees had to be evacuated.
The number of people forced to flee the flames rose into the hundreds of thousands. Two people have been killed.
Thousands of residents sought shelter at fairgrounds, schools and community centers. The largest gathering was at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, where up to 10,000 evacuees anxiously watched the stadium's television sets, hoping for a glimpse of their neighborhood on the local news.
By day three, the dozen wildfires had burned more than 1,200 homes and businesses, and the destruction may only be the start for the region. With forecasts calling for hotter temperatures and fierce wind gusts, the flames were proving nearly impossible to fight.
At least 346,000 homes were evacuated in San Diego County alone, sheriff's officials said. But the total number could be much higher, and state officials were still struggling to estimate how many people had fled.
East of Los Angeles, a two-front fire destroyed at least 160 homes in the Lake Arrowhead area, the same mountain resort community where hundreds of homes were lost four years earlier. Officials said at least 100 more homes were destroyed Tuesday in the mountain community of Running Springs, not far away.
The blazes bedeviled firefighters as fires roared from mountain passes to the edges of the state's celebrated coastline, spreading so quickly that even hotels serving as temporary shelters for evacuees had to be evacuated.
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders pleaded for donations of blankets, cots, pillows and food for the people staying there, and officials said more people were expected to arrive Tuesday.
"It's basically a mass migration here in San Diego County," Luis Monteagudo, a spokesman for the county's emergency effort. Public schools in the county were closed, as were campuses at the University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University.
San Diego County was ablaze from its rural north to its border region with Mexico, where the wildfires that started Sunday claimed their only fatality to date - a 52-yea-old man whose body was found Sunday afternoon, authorities said.
Forty-two people were injured, 16 of them firefighters.
Homes have burned from the beaches of Malibu - where celebrities including Barbra Streisand, Mel Gibson and David Geffen have houses - to the mountain retreats east of Los Angeles and south through Orange and San Diego counties to Mexico.
Since they began Sunday, the fires have burned at least 245,957 acres, or 384 square miles - an area larger than New York City.