Fast-moving wildfire sets cars ablaze on California highway

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LOS ANGELES — A dangerous, fast-moving wildfire spread through the Cajon Pass on Friday afternoon, burning five homes and threatening about 50 others after jumping the 15 Freeway and destroying some 20 vehicles stopped on the pavement.

According to KTLA in Los Angeles, the fire started about 2:30 p.m. off the freeway just north of State Route 138, prompting the closure of all southbound and northbound lanes of the 15 Freeway soon after. Responding fire crews were stuck in traffic and CHP was urging drivers to avoid the area.

The North Fire was at 500 acres about 3:45 p.m., and firefighting aircraft were temporarily grounded due to drone activity, the San Bernardino County Fire Department stated on Twitter. Two hours later, the fire was at 3,500 acres.

Cars are seen burning from a fast-moving wildfire along I-15 outside of Los Angeles on Friday. (Credit: KTLA)

Cars are seen burning from a fast-moving wildfire along I-15 outside of Los Angeles on Friday. (Credit: KTLA)

Five homes had burned and about 50 were threatened, the Fire Department tweeted around 5:30 p.m.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Baldy Mesa area east of Sheep Creek Road, north and west of the 15 Freeway, and south of Phelan Road. The area consists of scattered homes and ranches.

Several vehicles stopped on the freeway were burning, aerial video from Sky5 showed. It was not clear if anyone was injured, and firefighters arrived on the pavement just before 4 p.m.

“Currently we have not only a multi-casaulty incident, but a large wildfire threatening structures,” Josh Wilkins with the county Fire Department aid.

Only two minor injuries were reported as of about 5:15 p.m., according to Melody Lardner of the San Bernardino National Forest.

Hundreds of firefighters were headed to structures that were threatened in Baldy Mesa, Oak Hills and Phelan areas, Wilkins said.

Aerial video from Sky5 showed flames burning just feet from a ranch home on the northwest edge of the fire about 5:30 p.m.

The blaze began as a vegetation fire and was spread rapidly toward the Oak Hills area by 40 to 45 mph winds, according to Wilkins.

At least 10 vehicles had burned, Wilkins said shortly after 4 p.m. Later, the Forest Service tweeted that 20 vehicles were destroyed and 10 were damaged when the fire jumped the freeway.

Two of the vehicles destroyed were big rigs, according to the multi-agency federal wildfire website InciWeb. Two more big rigs were damaged.

Aerial video from news helicopters also showed a boat and a car-carrier truck burning.

Some 70 to 80 vehicles were left on the pavement, some without keys, California Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Carapia. The agency was trying to get the vehicles out of the fire’s path, but officers were awaiting tow trucks from the Victorville area, Carapia said.

The fire was under unified command with San Bernardino County Fire Department, Cal Fire, and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

The blaze marks the second major wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest in a month. The Lake Fire, which has burned more than 31,000 acres, started June 17 south of Big Bear Lake.

The 15 Freeway is the main route from the Los Angeles basin to Las Vegas and is heavily traveled at Friday rush hour.

The area burning is about 45 miles east-northeast of downtown Los Angeles in a pass that separates the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountain ranges.