Southern California firefighters keeping busy, battling 3,500-acre blaze

The Associated Press
Monday June 17, 2002

SAN BERNADINO— A fast-moving wildfire burned 3,500 acres of rugged forest land Sunday and caused the temporary closure of Interstate 15 in San Bernadino, fire officials said. 

About 700 firefighters were dispatched to battle the blaze that broke out Sunday about 3 p.m. and spread to both sides of the highway near Cajon Blvd. 

Buffeted by hot, dry winds, the fire spread quickly in a mostly northeasterly direction, jumping the freeway at least twice, authorities said. Flames passed over cars in places. 

The fire raced up Cleghorn Canyon, which is lined by dry brush that has not burned since 1994, authorities said. 

The fire grew from 100 acres at 4 p.m. and covered more than 3,000 acres by nightfall, said Fran Colwell of the U.S. Forest Service in San Bernadino. Firefighters in the late afternoon were battling the flames in 92-degree heat from seven air tankers, four helicopters and 45 engines on the ground, Colwell said. 

The rugged terrain frustrated firefighters’ attempts to draw a line around the fire on the ground, Colwell said. Firefighters by 9 p.m. had the blaze 10 percent contained. 

Some structures were threatened in the Oak Hills and Summit Valley communities. A voluntary evacuation was in effect in Oak Hills, but fire officials had no estimate on how many people had left their homes. 

The fire slowed after nightfall and it also moved into an area that had burned a few years earlier, said Carol Becklew, of the U.S. Forest Service. 

Interstate 15 was closed for several hours Sunday night, but both sides were reopened after 8 p.m. Highway 138 remained closed in both directions as it neared I-15. 

The closure snarled traffic and some drivers crossed center dividers and freeway shoulders, keeping police, fire and Caltrans vehicles from getting through, said Officer Karen Faciane, of the California Highway Patrol. Other desperate drivers drove down railroad tracks. 

The blaze was threatening a radio tower, but no other buildings were threatened, said Karen McKinley, spokeswoman for the San Bernadino National Forest. 

The cause of the fire was under investigation, McKinley said. 

Meanwhile, fire officials expect to fully contain a wildfire that destroyed five homes and forced evacuations of 200 people in Lake Isabella by Tuesday. 

The blaze by Sunday afternoon was at least 50 percent contained. Firefighters faced hot weather and winds of up to 15 mph as they battled the fire that exploded from a few acres to 3,500 acres. 

The fire, which started Saturday about 1 p.m., abated after sundown and residents were allowed to return home at night, said Kern County Fire Department spokesman Chris Cagle.