California firefighters making gains as wildfires devastate the state
Firefighters gained ground on Friday against a wildfire burning in a Southern California mountain pass that has forced tens of thousands of residents to flee and destroyed about 100 homes, officials said.
The Blue Cut fire, named for a narrow gorge near its origin in the Cajon Pass about 75 miles (120 km) northeast of Los Angeles, has blackened 37,000 acres (14,973 hectares) of drought-parched heavy brush and chaparral after breaking out on Tuesday.
The blaze has destroyed 96 single-family homes and 213 outbuildings, according to a preliminary assessment from teams in the field, fire information officer Lyn Sieliet said by telephone.
Officials said firefighters were able to carve containment lines around 40 percent of the blaze as of Friday night, despite dry, hot and windy weather conditions and treacherous terrain.
The intensely burning blaze, which has produced cyclone-like whirls of flame, continued to threaten some 34,500 homes and other structures in communities including the ski resort town of Wrightwood, fire officials said.
Among the structures burned was the Summit Inn, a popular diner on the historic Route 66 cross-country highway.
“It’s awful. It’s a bad feeling now to see it all burn up,” said 84-year-old Cecil Stevens, who owned the diner for nearly 50 years before recently selling it.
“We’ve had a lot of fires and a lot of accidents in this area, but we always managed to get out of it without being hurt, but this time it’s different. It’s over.”
More than 80,000 residents were told to evacuate their homes on Tuesday. Since then, some people have been allowed to return home, Sieliet said, but she could not say how many.
While many residents opted to stay put, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office said deputies arrested three people suspected of attempting to loot abandoned homes.
Transit authorities on Thursday reopened Interstate 15, the primary traffic route between greater Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Nevada, after it was closed for two days by the fast-moving blaze.
The Blue Cut fire is one of nearly 30 major blazes reported to have scorched hundreds of square miles in eight Western states this week, in the midst of a wildfire season stoked by prolonged drought and unusually hot weather, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
The blaze ranks as one of the most destructive California fires this year, rivaling the so-called Erskine Fire, which consumed about 48,000 acres northeast of Bakersfield in June, killed an elderly couple and destroyed 386 structures, including about 150 homes.
(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Cynthia Osterman and Nick Macfie)