Monday 5 December 2016

Panic as 1000 firefighters battle 3500-acre wildfire sweeping across California

Published 18/07/2015 | 09:02

Flames rise from a fire over a cluster of homes in California Credit: James Quigg/The Victor Valley Daily Press
Flames rise from a fire over a cluster of homes in California Credit: James Quigg/The Victor Valley Daily Press

Firefighters are battling a fast-moving blaze which swept across a freeway in a Southern California mountain pass, destroying 20 vehicles and sending motorists running to safety before burning four buildings.

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Fanned by hot desert winds, the wildfire started in the Cajon Pass along Interstate 15 - the main highway between Southern California and Las Vegas - and spread quickly to 3,500 acres.

A brush fire burning in foothills north of Los Angeles overran a freeway in a mountain pass on Friday, torching several cars and trucks as drivers scrambled to safety Credit: Reuters/NBCLA.com
A brush fire burning in foothills north of Los Angeles overran a freeway in a mountain pass on Friday, torching several cars and trucks as drivers scrambled to safety Credit: Reuters/NBCLA.com

Hundreds of firefighters, aided by water-dropping aircraft, have contained 5pc of the blaze.

Strong winds spread the fire to the rural community of Baldy Mesa, where it burned at least five homes and threatened about 50 more.

California is in the midst of severe drought, and wildfires are common. Some break out near freeways, but it is very unusual to have vehicles caught in the flames.

Dozens of vehicles were abandoned and hundreds of others turned on to side roads to get away from the flames as water-dropping helicopters flew over the Cajon Pass area about 55 miles north east of Los Angeles.

Fire fighters and locals try to control a fire in a popular district of La Paz Credit: REUTERS/David Mercado
Fire fighters and locals try to control a fire in a popular district of La Paz Credit: REUTERS/David Mercado

Motorists stuck on the road described a harrowing scene.

"It's crazy, you're watching black clouds and white clouds of smoke, there's a ridgeline off to my right ... and it looks like any second flames will come over the ridgeline," Chris Patterson, 43, said.

It is not uncommon for wildfires to reach freeways in California but it was unclear why dozens of cars were caught along Interstate 15, forcing frightened people to flee on foot.

US Forest Service spokesman Uriah Hernandez said no injuries had been confirmed.

Cars shown burning on the Interstate 15 freeway in California Credit: Reuters/NBCLA.com
Cars shown burning on the Interstate 15 freeway in California Credit: Reuters/NBCLA.com

The agency said the fire had burned at least 3, 500 acres and was threatening the rural community of Baldy Mesa.

San Bernardino County Fire service said at least five homes were burned and another 50 were threatened by the flames. An additional 10 cars on the freeway were damaged by the fire.

A firefighter watches flames in Southern California Credit: James Quigg/The Victor Valley Daily Press
A firefighter watches flames in Southern California Credit: James Quigg/The Victor Valley Daily Press

Melissa Atalla said she could see the flames from her petrol station in Baldy Mesa.

"People are spectating from our parking lot, running around getting water and beer. It's chaos," she said. "One man came in and said, 'Oh my, my house is getting burned'."

The fire led authorities to shut several freeway lanes, causing traffic to back up for miles. California Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Carapia said 50 to 75 vehicles were left abandoned.

Raquel Martinez, 34, was traveling to Las Vegas with her husband for the weekend when they got stuck in northbound traffic on the I-15 for about an hour.

The brush fires continue to burn in California Credit: Reuters/NBCLA.com
The brush fires continue to burn in California Credit: Reuters/NBCLA.com

The sky darkened to black. As they drove by, cars were covered in "pink powder" - fire retardant. Cars meanwhile were being redirected up narrow twisty emergency lanes from the southbound side headed north.

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