Blue Cut Fire Chars 49 Square Miles of SoCal

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — A wildfire 60 miles east of Los Angeles has now blazed through more 31,000 acres and is only 4 percent contained, officials said Thursday.
     The Blue Cut Fire swept through Cajon Pass between the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains on Tuesday morning, surprising firefighters with its ferocity as it roared through rural neighborhoods and grew to 40 square miles by Wednesday morning.
     “It hit hard, it hit fast — it hit with an intensity that we haven’t seen before,” San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said. “There will be a lot of families that will come home to nothing.”
     Five years of drought have made heavy brush highly combustible, and officials say that warm, gusty winds and triple-digit temperatures have allowed the wildfire to roar out of control.
     “Not only is the air drier, we’re below 10 percent in relative humidity — that’s Santa Ana conditions, that’s not August conditions. Normally we don’t have these kinds of weather conditions,” Hartwig told CNN. Hartwig’s mention of “Santa Ana conditions” is in reference to the warm, bone-dry Santa Ana winds that howl across Southern California in the fall and winter months.
     More than 82,600 people have been ordered to evacuate. Though the exact number of homes damaged or destroyed is not yet known, officials say that dozens of structures have been scorched by the fire or set ablaze.
     That has left families to ponder what will face them when they are allowed to go home.
     Wrightwood dockworker Shawn Brady, who was at an evacuation shelter, told the Associated Press that a neighbor told him the wildfire had reached their street.
     “What I’ve been told is that flames are currently ripping through my house,” said Brady. “I’m trying to remain optimistic. It’s the not knowing that’s the worst.”
     Vi Delgado and her daughter April Christy told the Associated Press that they had seen wildfires before but nothing as devastating as the Blue Cut Fire, which was named after the trail where it started.
     “No joke, we were literally being chased by the fire,” Christy said in a minivan outside a center for evacuees in Fontana. “You’ve got flames on the side of you. You’ve got flames behind you.”
     The fire began Tuesday morning at 10:36 a.m. at Cajon Pass west of Interstate 15, the highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in San Bernardino County later that day.
     By Thursday the fire had consumed 31,689 acres according to Cal Fire’s incident information system. At the scene are 1584 fire personnel, 178 fire engines, 26 crews, 10 air tankers, 2 so-called “very large” air tankers and 17 helicopters.
     Though officials ordered everyone to evacuate the ski resort of Wrightwood as well as Lone Pine Canyon, Swarthout Canyon, West Cajon Valley and Lytle Creek Canyon, there were reports of people refusing to leave.
     “This is not the time to mess around,” San Bernardino County fire battalion chief Mark Peebles said.
     “If we ask you to leave, you have to leave,” said Mike Wakoski, the incident commander and a battalion chief with the San Bernardino County Fire Department.
     The fire has forced the closure of 11 schools. Two firefighters sustained minor injuries on Tuesday after they were trapped with four other firefighters at an area west of Cajon Pass.
     “Both firefighters were transported to a local hospital where they were treated and released and are now back on the fire line defending structures,” a statement said.
     On Wednesday night the California Highway Patrol reopened the northbound side of the I-15. The southbound lanes remain closed.
     The cause of the fire is under investigation.
     According to Cal Fire, there are currently nine major wildfires burning in the Golden State from San Bernardino County north to Humboldt County. The largest, the Soberanes Fire near Big Sur in Monterey County, has consumed 79,000 acres since it began — sparked by an illegal campfire — on July 23.
     It is 60 percent contained.

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