Mandatory evacuations were lifted Wednesday evening for hundreds of residents who were forced to flee flames and smoke in the wind-driven wildfire raging out of control in the mountains near Rancho Cucamonga.
Fire officials said voluntary evacuations were still in place for homes north of Hillside Road between Haven and Milliken avenues.
Earlier in the day, roughly 1,650 homes were evacuated as deputies went door to door to warn residents and firefighters scrambled to knock down flames and chase spot fires that were caused by the strong Santa Ana winds.
Some gusts hit 80 mph as the Etiwanda fire charred at least 1,000 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest, officials said.
The high winds forced officials to ground water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing tankers, complicating the task of fighting the fire as it zigzagged along the parched brush-and-chaparral covered hillsides.
More than 580 firefighters were battling the blaze on the ground. They included strike teams of fire engines assigned to protect homes, bulldozer teams to create larger fire breaks and hand crews to cut containment lines along the flanks of the rapidly moving fire.
As huge clouds of smoke billowed, Barbora Konecna watched as a half-dozen firefighters worked around her Banyan Street home, clearing brush and spraying water on its roof. All of the sprinklers in the yard were on, dousing the vegetation and eucalyptus trees that surrounded the two-story house.
The 40-year-old Konecna saw some smoke when she left her house about 8 a.m. to take her children to school, but said she didn’t think much of it. By the time she returned home to grab her kids’ forgotten snacks, the smoke was thicker and the winds were blowing it directly toward her house.
Konecna packed up her family’s documents and important belongings, and called a friend to figure out how to turn on the safety sprinklers that came with her house. The firefighters arrived soon after, parking two rigs on her property.
“Any time they tell me it’s time to go, I can get out of here. I don’t want to be in anyone’s way,” she said. “With the wind going the way it is, you just don’t know.”
The blaze exploded in size over the morning, from 20 acres when it was first reported shortly after 8 a.m. to more than 800 acres by midday as winds whipped along steep terrain.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District, meanwhile, issued a smoke advisory for portions of western San Bernardino and Riverside counties.