Realtor trade groups and individual members have worked to assist residents displaced by several major wildfires ripping across Southern California.

Mike Mercurio, executive vice president for the San Diego Association of Realtors, said the group has been working with the San Diego mayor’s office, the county, and an apartment association to quickly locate rental property for victims and other evacuees. Meanwhile, Mercurio himself was forced to evacuate his home and has been staying at a hotel.

The group sent an e-mail to its 12,000 members this week asking for assistance in identifying available rental properties, Mercurio said.

Also, the statewide California Association of Realtors trade group announced that it is offering grants of $1,000 to $5,000 for Realtor members and associated staff. And the statewide group seeks contributions to a disaster relief fund.

To contribute to the fund, make checks payable to California Community Foundation and write “C.A.R. Disaster Relief Fund” on the memo line. Checks can be sent to: California Community Foundation, 445 S. Figueroa St., #3400, Los Angeles, CA 90071-1638. Contributions can also be made online at the following Web site: http://www.calfund.org/8/giving/calrealtorsrelief.php.

Mercurio was among a group of more than 500,000 Southern Californians this week who’ve evacuated their homes to escape wildfire danger. The fires raging in the region have so far caused two deaths from burns, four deaths during the evacuation, and an estimated $1 billion or more in damage to San Diego County alone, according to reports. The fires, which range from north of Santa Barbara to the Mexico border, have collectively destroyed about 1,500 homes and scorched about 665 square miles.

A resident of Rancho Bernardo, an area that lost about 300 homes to a wildfire, Mercurio said he has received some encouraging news about the area where his home is situated, but no confirmation about its condition. “We don’t know the status,” he said. A weatherman friend who visited the fire area told him that his home appeared to be spared from the blaze. “We’re just praying that’s the case,” Mercurio said. The Realtor group’s office temporarily closed on Monday and Tuesday and reopened today.

Lori Staehling, 2007 president-elect for the San Diego Association of Realtors and a Realtor at Prudential California Realty’s Rancho Bernardo Office, said she left her Southern California home on Monday after receiving a call from a family member about the widespread evacuations.

“My home was in a much safer area. I was evacuated out of precaution,” she said.

After holding an open house on Sunday, she returned to a home that smelled of smoke. On Sunday night the smoke was very thick and the winds were strong in her neighborhood, said Staehling, who visited with family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The smoke was so bad — it was so bad it was horrid,” she said.

Staehling said she could see the freeway from her home and noticed that traffic was at a standstill as evacuees took to the roads.

She assisted an association board member in finding a temporary home for two dogs and has made some calls to check on friends and clients. Her daughter stayed with some friends who live outside the evacuation area. The parents of an association board member were taken in by strangers who offered up their home.

One of Staehling’s clients, who is selling a multimillion-dollar property in Poway, lost some landscaping to fire but a crew of firefighters worked to protect the homes on his cul-de-sac, she said.

“I know a lot of people on streets where homes were burned down,” she said, but so far she hasn’t heard whether any of them have lost their homes. “People are really being great and helping one another out,” she said.

As she drove north from Southern California, Staehling said she was at first discouraged that she did not see many fire trucks heading south on the freeway. But as she got further north she began to notice the crews — “I saw hundreds, hundreds of trucks heading south.”

Kris Berg, Realtor for Prudential California Realty who lives and works in the Scripps Ranch area — an area that was hit hard by a wildfire in 2003 — said she and her husband, Steve, left their home under a mandatory evacuation order but were allowed to return about 24 hours later.

“I don’t think we were ever in any imminent danger,” she said.

Berg said the real estate office where she works has been closed all week.

“Right now the active fires are probably 10-15 miles away,” she said, though the air quality has been poor and the area is coated in ash. Area schools are closed until Monday, she said.

“People are trying to get back to their routines. It’s difficult even if you’re not directly affected.”

The Bergs have a second home in the Lake Arrowhead area, which is under siege by other wildfires.

“We’re all just watching the weather,” she said. “So much is dependent on which way the wind blows.”

Jim Klinge, a San Diego-area real estate broker, is among several real estate bloggers who has been posting fire information at his blog site. He has been monitoring local television news reports, and his blog traffic has jumped to about three to four times its normal rate since the wildfires flared up.

“None of my clients have been burned out. A lot of them got evacuated,” he said.

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