Wind-driven Lake fire near Big Bear jumps to 10,000 acres; 74-year-old hiker rescued

Summer camps evacuated as wildfire grows to 10,000 acres

A 10,000-acre wildfire burning near Big Bear in the San Bernardino National Forest is now the largest blaze on California forestland this year, fire officials said Thursday.

The Lake fire quickly grew in the afternoon from 1,500 acres to 7,500 acres because of dry, windy conditions, said Anna Bribiescas, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service. By 7 p.m., the fire had spread to 10,000 acres, making it the largest blaze this year on the state’s national forests.

Winds of up to 5 mph were fanning flames and propelling them east along Highway 38. The winds, she said, were pushing the blaze away from homes, but it was still threatening 150 structures, mostly cabins, nestled in the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area.

The fire erupted at 3:52 p.m. Wednesday near Jenks Lake Road, charring 50 acres near a cluster of summer camps operated by churches and the YMCA, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

But the blaze, which is 5% contained, grew overnight, moving east as it consumed timber and threatening several structures. The San Bernardino National Forest received rain last Friday, but it was not enough to relieve dry conditions, Bribiescas said.

About 500 fire personnel, 32 engines, five air tankers and seven helicopters for night-time flying and an air attack plane were deployed to battle the moderately fast-burning fire as it moves closer to camps.

Large plumes of smoke over the region prompted the South Coast Air Quality Management District to issue a smoke advisory Thursday. An onshore flow was carrying smoke northeast and east into the Mojave Desert air basin.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

More than 175 people were evacuated from Camp de Benneville Pines, Camp Ta Ta Pochon, Camp Alpine Meadows, Camp Edwards, and Camp Tulakes. Children were bused to Citrus Valley High School in Redlands and reunited with their parents.

Camp de Benneville Pines was hosting the theater-oriented Camp Bravo this week for middle and high school students, according to the camp’s website.

Stranded in the path of the fire was 74-year-old Stanley Reese of Dana Point, who was on a three-day backpacking trip. Reese alerted state officials about 10:30 a.m. that he needed to be rescued from the San Gorgonio Wilderness. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department airlifted him and reunited him with his family, sheriff's officials said.

Fire officials have also ordered evacuations for areas east of Angelus Oaks, Onyx Summit, Barton Flats, Seven Oaks and homes off of Rainbow Lane.

Hiking trails into the San Gorgonio Wilderness area were closed because of the fire. The Pacific Crest Trail is also closed from Whitewater Preserve to Onyx Summit.

Jenks Lake Road has been shut down, and Highway 38 is closed between Angelus Oaks to Lake Williams.

Earlier this year, researchers flew in a fixed-wing aircraft about 1,000 feet above ground level and surveyed 4.2-million acres of trees in the Cleveland, San Bernardino, Angeles and Los Padres national forests.

They discovered that 164,000 acres had suffered a significant number of tree deaths. Researchers estimated that 2 million trees have died due to drought and the invasion of bark beetles. The tiny bark beetle thrives in dry conditions, chewing away at pines and making them brittle.

An assessment of California’s forests found that at least 12.5 million trees have been killed off during the drought.

The Lake fire is among several that broke out in Southern California. Starting Wednesday, flames tore through dry brush along Wildcat Canyon Road on the Barona Indian Reservation, spreading to more than 170 acres by Thursday afternoon, according to Cal Fire.

Shortly before 1:45 p.m., a fire began burning near Glendale Community College and scorched about three acres. 

Staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


6:47 p.m.: This story was updated with information that the fire spread to 10,000 acres.

3:33 p.m.: This story has been updated with details on a rescue and summaries of other wildfires in Southern California.

1:45 p.m.: This story has been updated with officials saying this is the largest blaze in California on forestland this year.

12:42 a.m.: This story has been updated with fire growing to 7,500 acres.

9:31 a.m.: This story has been updated with new evacuations orders and acreage totals.

This story was originally published at 7:35 a.m.