96 homes, 213 other buildings destroyed in massive Blue Cut fire – Los Angeles Times
The raging Blue Cut fire in the Cajon Pass has destroyed nearly 100 homes as firefighters focused their efforts Friday on areas near the mountain resort town of Wrightwood, where dry brush hasn’t burned in years.
According to preliminary estimates released by San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig, 96 homes and 213 outbuildings have been destroyed by the fire, which has covered 37,000 acres.
Wrightwood on the west flank of the fire is dotted with apartments and small homes and has the highest housing density in the area.
The blaze is 26% contained, officials said, up from 22% Thursday evening.
The fire continues to be most active in the Gobbler’s Peak area, just south of Wrightwood, according to officials. Gusty winds, high temperatures and low humidity are expected to persist and could create the same challenges that have hampered crews since the fire broke out Tuesday.
Although the fire calmed slightly overnight and halted its march north and east, a red-flag warning remains in effect.
Some signs of progress were evident Thursday afternoon.
Mandatory evacuations were lifted in several communities, and Caltrans reopened the 15 Freeway, which connects Los Angeles and Las Vegas and is a key trucking and commuter route that runs from San Diego, through the Inland Empire and across the Mojave Desert into Nevada.
Its two-day closure had contributed to massive congestion, creating nightmares for travelers and those trying to evacuate.
Highway 138, another major roadway in the area, remains closed until further notice, according to the California Highway Patrol. But with both sides of the 15 Freeway reopened, truckers like Kevin Holladay were able to return to their usual commute.
Holladay said he had a lot of time to think about whether he would risk driving on the freeway Friday morning — he was on the road from Illinois to Anaheim to reload his tanker truck with chemicals.
Holladay, a lean man with blue eyes, long gray hair and a thick horseshoe mustache, said he listened to the radio to keep up with the latest news about the fire.
“I just kept driving,” he said, standing at a truck stop just off Highway 138.
Not too far away, a sign for the Outpost Café proclaimed, “The Place for meeting, eatin’ and getting gas.”
Holladay prayed the flames would calm down, he said — not because of the drive but because of the destruction. His thoughts drifted to residents whose homes and animals were threatened by the wildfire.
As he crossed into Nevada earlier in the day, Holladay saw signs telling motorists that the south 15 Freeway was still closed, he said. When he reached, Las Vegas, the signs said the road was still closed. Still, the trucker pressed on.
“I followed my instinct,” Holladay said.
At the California state line, he saw another sign. The freeway was open. Driving through the area, he caught a glimpse of some of the damage left behind.
“I was shocked,” he said. “Stuff you’ve seen for years is gone.”
As fires spread throughout the state, a mass die-off of vegetation — especially in the Sierra Nevada, where an estimated 66 million trees are dead or dying because of the drought and an outbreak of bark beetles — will only ripen fire conditions, fire experts said.
A wildfire erupted near a campground north of Santa Barbara on Thursday afternoon, and quickly spread to 1,000 acres. The Rey fire threatened homes in the rugged area, authorities said.
The fire, burning in a remote region near the Santa Ynez River, was 20% contained as of Friday morning. Firefighters had difficulty reaching the burn area with engines, prompting a strong aerial attack that included two helicopters and four air tankers, according to a statement from county officials.
A camper in the area, Kyle Joachim, said he and his wife were driving back to their campsite around 3 p.m. Thursday when they saw a strip of the hillside go up in smoke. Curious, the couple pulled over to take a look at what had happened.
As they watched the flames fan out, Joachim called 911.
“I couldn’t believe how quickly it spread,” he said.
Joachim, 36, and his family had been staying at the Fremont campsite. The fire area was only about a mile from the site, he said.
The seven of them had spent two days hiking around the area — including parts of the forest that are now up in flames.
They had planned on staying until Friday morning, but a sheriff’s deputy came and told the campsite host everyone needed to evacuate. Joachim and his family quickly packed up their two tents and loaded their gear into their cars.
About a dozen people were staying at the campsite, Joachim said. Large signs at the entrance advised campers that they could make fires only in designated areas.
“The camp host came around the first day and was very specific that we could only have fire in the fire pits,” Joachim said. “They had jugs of water next to the pits that said, ‘For fire only.'”
After speaking with the deputy, the camp host seemed panicked, Joachim recalled.
“At first we were laughing. Then we realized, this is really serious. We need to get out,” he said.
Crews also continue to work on the Chimney fire that broke out near Lake Nacimiento in San Luis Obispo County. That blaze has scorched 11,999 acres and is 33% contained, Cal Fire said.
In Lake County, a wildfire suspected to have been intentionally set charred nearly 4,000 acres. More than 1,700 firefighters are battling the flames, which destroyed nearly 300 structures. The Clayton fire was 65% contained Friday morning.
The fire marks the latest devastation in an area where three wildfires incinerated 170,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 homes last year.
The blaze hit the town of Lower Lake particularly hard. There, it destroyed a 150-year-old church on Main Street and a Habitat for Humanity office.