Fast-moving brush fire in Cajon Pass scorches 5500 acres as evacuations are ordered – Los Angeles Times
A brush fire broke out late Tuesday morning in the Cajon Pass about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, scorching about 5,500 acres of land and destroying some structures near the 15 Freeway, fire officials said.
The Blue Cut fire was first reported just after 10:30 a.m. near the 15 and jumped to nearly 1,500 acres within two hours, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said. By 2:45 p.m., the blaze had jumped a portion of the 15 Freeway and grown to roughly 5,500 acres, according to Cathleen Mattingly, a spokeswoman with Cal Fire in San Bernardino.
San Bernardino County firefighters, San Bernardino National Forest officials, U.S. Forest Service firefighters, county sheriff’s officials and and California Highway Patrol officers were all responding to the fire, Mattingly said.
At least 700 firefighters, 57 engines, 8 fire crews and 10 air tankers were on the scene as of 3 p.m., according to Mattingly, the fire was burning through “heavy, dry, brush.” The blaze currently poses an imminent threat to safety and structures in the Cajon Pass, Lytle Creek and Wrightwood, officials said.
Two firefighters had sustained minor injuries as of 2 p.m. Tuesday. Several structures had been damaged or destroyed, though an exact number was not immediately available, fire officials said.
It was not immediately clear if the fire was surging toward more residential areas or out into the desert. Mattingly said winds were moving northwest on Tuesday afternoon, but warned that could shift quickly.
Among those who evacuated the area were members of All Nations Mission in Swarthout Canyon.
U.S. Forest Service officials said hot, dry conditions and heavy brush are to blame for the fast-moving fire.
San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies were moving door-to-door urging residents to evacuate parts of Lytle Creek Canyon on Tuesday afternoon. A visit from a deputy prompted Ellen Pomella, 63, and her husband to flee from their home in Happy Jack on Tuesday. The couple quickly packed their cars and fled to a nearby ranger station, An hour later, Pomella say in a Prius stuffed with pillows, blankets, clothes and a cat nestled in its carrier. Her husband was parked in an SUV nearby, with the couples’ three dogs.
Tuesday was far from the couple’s first evacuation. Pomella and her husband have lived in the area for 25 years, and were not surprised by the blaze’s rapid growth.
“It’s part of living in this canyon,” she said. “It went fast. But it’s very dry.”
Pomella said she has worked with several of her neighbors to ensure that their properties are cleared of brush and anything else that could make them more flammable.
“People need to be prepared and just know that that’s part of the risk of living in these kinds of areas,” she said. “We’ve got a beautiful community.”
Further up the road at an RV park where deputies were knocking on doors and asking people to leave, Lytle Creek resident Joe Gonzales was gathering up laptops and important papers. While he was ready to flee, Gonzales said he wanted to wait until deputies checked on an elderly neighbor who might need a ride out of the area.
“I’m a little worried. I don’t want to leave here. We love it in the canyon,” he said. “But that smoke looks pretty bad.”
Authorities shut down the 15 Freeway from Oak Hill Road to Kenwood Avenue, forest officials said. California 138 is closed from California 2 to the 15. The 15 is the major thoroughfare for drivers headed to Las Vegas from Southern California.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for West Cajon Valley from California 2 to 15, as well as Lytle Creek, forest officials said. Students at Kimbark Elementary School had also been evacuated and relocated to Cesar Chavez School in San Bernardino, sheriff’s officials said.
A Red Cross emergency shelter has been set up for evacuees at the Jessie Turner Community Center in Fontana. The Devore Animal Shelter is accepting large and small animals from evacuated areas, authorities said.
For nearly a week, a heat wave has baked the Southland, combining with high winds and years of drought to create conditions that can help fires spread quickly. As of 3:45 p.m., the National Weather Service station in San Bernardino was reporting a temperature of 101 degrees.
The National Weather Service has issued a red-flag warning through Thursday evening for gusty winds, low humidity and hot temperatures in Los Angeles and Ventura County mountains.
The blaze erupted as crews battled another major fire in Northern California, where the Clayton Fire had ripped through 4,000 acres in Lake County, nearly obliterating entire neighborhoods and causing thousands to flee. A 40-year-old man was charged with arson in connection with the destructive blaze late Monday, police said.
A number of destructive wildfires have struck California in recent months, driven by years of historic drought conditions. Blazes have hit in San Diego, Kern, Monterey, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo counties, fueled by bone-dry brush and, in some areas, miles of dead or dying trees. Fire officials are warning the worst might still be ahead in Southern California, where the traditional fire season — fueled by hot Santa Ana winds — doesn’t begin until the fall.
Esquivel reported from Lytle Creek. Parvini and Queally reported from Los Angeles.
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3:46 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from residents who had evacuated the area.