Wildfire advances on thousands of California homes
SAN BERNARDINO (AP):
California's newest huge wildfire advanced on thousands of homes yesterday, feeding on drought-stricken vegetation and destroying an untold number of structures as it expanded to nearly 47 square miles.
Authorities could not say how many homes were destroyed in the first furious hours, but they prepared communities for bad news.
"There will be a lot of families that come home to nothing," San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said after a morning flight over a scene he described as "devastating".
"It hit hard. It hit fast. It hit with an intensity that we hadn't seen before," he said.
No deaths were reported, but cadaver dogs were used to search ruins to look for anyone who was overrun by the flames.
The blaze 60 miles east of Los Angeles was among eight large wildfires being battled by 10,000 firefighters statewide, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. In a fifth year of low rainfall, much of the area is in "extreme" or "exceptional" drought.
Flames continued to climb the flanks of the San Gabriel Mountains toward the town of Wrightwood, where authorities said that only half of the community's 4,500 residents had complied with evacuation orders covering more than 34,000 homes and some 82,000 people.
Less than 24 hours after the blaze began, the fire command assembled a fleet of 10 air tankers, 15 helicopters and an army of 1,300 firefighters, many of them just off the lines of a wildfire that burned for 10 days just to the east.
The fire erupted late Tuesday morning in Cajon Pass, a critical highway and rail corridor through mountain ranges that separate Southern California's major population centres from the Mojave Desert to the north.
Countless big rigs were parked on both sides of the pass, waiting for Interstate 15 and a web of other roads to reopen. Alternate routes involved significant detours. The pass is a major route for travel from the Los Angeles region to Las Vegas and also carries significant daily commuter traffic for high desert residents.