The almost 900-acre Sheep fire is 85% contained, evacuations lifted
Crews seem to have turned a corner on the almost 900-acre wildfire burning near Wrightwood in the Angeles National Forest, with the blaze 85% contained Wednesday night.
The Sheep fire, which ignited Saturday, exploded in size through Tuesday, engulfing 865 acres and prompting evacuation orders and warnings for residents in the area.
All evacuation measures, which had been in place since Sunday for communities in and around Wrightwood, were lifted Tuesday evening, according to the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District.
“The threats to the communities are gone, for now,” said Joe Rosa, the public information officer for California Interagency Incident Management Team 14, which has taken command of the Sheep fire. But he said a shift in weather — though not predicted for the next 24 hours — could change that risk.
Firefighters continued to increase containment of the blaze, according to a statement by the Angeles National Forest late Wednesday night.
“Earlier today, hotshot crews alongside helicopter water drops were able to extinguish a few hotspots near the south end of the fire,” the statement read. “While infrared flights continue to show scattered heat and interior heat within the fire perimeter, some remaining interior heat islands are expected to burn out.”
Crews were to continue searching for hotspots and monitoring fire behavior overnight Wednesday, according to the statement.
Rosa said about 600 firefighters continue to battle the blaze. The reported size of the fire, 865 acres, is down from initial estimates of 990 acres. Rosa said better mapping Tuesday night provided a more accurate scope of the fire.
“The biggest challenge throughout this whole incident has been the winds, and some of the topography,” Rosa said.
He said that because of cliffs and unstable rocky spots, it hasn’t been safe to put crews on the ground in some areas of the fire, which correspond with many of the areas not yet contained.
No structures have been damaged or lost in the fire, Rosa said. Officials with the state Department of Transportation worked to replace some guardrails along Highway 2, and crews with Southern California Edison are expected to replace some damaged poles Thursday, Rosa said.
Earlier Wednesday, Caltrans reopened the closed portion of Highway 2 between Wright Mountain Road and Desert Front Road, according to the Angeles National Forest’s statement.
“Fire crews and cooperators will continue to work near the roadway, please use caution when driving through the area,” the statement read.
Since Saturday, officials described a challenging firefight with dense vegetation, steep terrain and high and erratic winds, made more difficult by soaring temperatures and a drought-dried landscape primed to burn.
By Tuesday, conditions became a bit more favorable, said San Bernardino County Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike McClintock. He said reporting crews were no longer seeing active fire growth.
Climate change, drought and soaring temperatures are setting the stage for another devastating wildfire season, officials say.
But high temperatures and potential winds could remain a threat for the Sheep fire, said Miguel Miller, a forecaster with National Weather Service in San Diego, which covers the San Bernardino area.
“Right now it’s kind of a good news, bad news,” Miller said Wednesday. “The bad news is it’s quite hot and quite dry over that fire right now. The good news is the winds are quite light.”
Miller said that heat, with highs expected around 90 degrees near the fire, is expected to last through Thursday, until an expected low-pressure system moves in Friday. He said that although that system could bring lower temperatures and more humidity — good for the firefighting — it could also bring much stronger winds, an added challenge.
Rosa said he is hopeful the weather will cool off and winds won’t get too bad, which will “help get crews into place to get this thing wrapped up here, hopefully before too long.”
Rosa’s team has estimated the Sheep fire will be contained by June 22, though he said that could quickly change depending on a number of factors.
“Crews are making really good progress,” Rosa said. “The crews that were initially on scene and worked this fire ... did a phenomenal job keeping the fire where it’s at. They did really good work to keep the fire spread at a minimum.”
The South Coast Air Quality Management District had issued a smoke advisory warning of potentially unhealthful conditions in areas near the fire, but that expired Tuesday night.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, the Forest Service said.
Times staff writer Gregory Yee contributed to this report.
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