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California

Explosive Blue Cut fire fully contained as other wildfires continue to rage

Blue Cut fire
Burned vehicles glow in the light of the full moon on Highway 138 in Phelan as the Blue Cut fire burned in San Bernardino County.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Exactly one week after the Blue Cut blaze first exploded in the Cajon Pass, fire officials declared the devastating wildfire fully contained Tuesday. 

The fire destroyed an estimated 105 homes and 213 other structures in San Bernardino County and now ranks as the 20th most destructive wildfire in state history, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The massive fire put more than 82,000 residents under mandatory evacuation orders and created major transportation problems when it forced the closure of the 15 Freeway and Highway 138 and scorched a stretch of freight railroad tracks that curve through the Cajon Pass. 

The cause of the wildfire remains under investigation.

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Utility companies will continue to work in the area to replace damaged infrastructure, and the rail corridor is being assessed, Cal Fire said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, several other large wildfires continued to burn throughout the state.

The 37,101-acre Chimney fire burning near Lake Nacimiento in San Luis Obispo County was 35% contained Tuesday morning. The fire has destroyed 52 structures and damaged seven. It threatens an additional 1,896 structures.

The blaze was burning about two miles east of Hearst Castle on Tuesday morning.

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The historic 165-room estate will remain closed, and tours were canceled through Sunday because of the fire, California State Parks said in a statement. Fire conditions will be reassessed on Sunday to determine when the castle will reopen. Visitors with reservations through the weekend will be contacted about refunds, officials said.  

For days, teams of firefighters have been guarding the castle against flames, and firefighters have cut multiple fire lines to protect the estate, Cal Fire Capt. Lucas Spelman said.

The park grounds are surrounded by Hearst Ranch, which is still owned by Hearst Corp.

Stephen Hearst, the great-grandson of William Randolph Hearst and the vice president and general manager of Hearst’s Western Properties, told the San Francisco Chronicle that 15,000 acres of the 83,000-acre ranch property had been burned, including up to eight structures.

Ranch staff were helping to battle the blaze by building containment lines. “We’re defending it with everything we’ve got,” Hearst told the paper.

The Chimney fire has challenged firefighters, who thought they had gained the upper hand on the blaze before winds picked up and it exploded over the weekend, fire officials said. 

The blaze was moving mostly north, but fire crews were preparing for the winds to shift Tuesday, Spelman said. 

The fire is burning over a large area that has created dramatically different firefighting conditions on either side of the blaze, he said.

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On the western side of the fire, closer to the ocean, there was high humidity Monday, which held the moisture in the air and trapped the smoke, making visibility so bad that it grounded firefighting aircraft, Spelman said. 

On the eastern side, firefighters had had the “exact opposite thing going on,” with “exceptionally low” humidity, dry brush and fast-moving flames that have been a staple of this busy fire season, Spelman said.

“It’s almost like the mountains are just doused in gasoline,” said Spelman, who has worked on numerous major wildfires already this year. “The brush is just burning at a rate that’s incredible.”

“Right now, we’re at that point where I’m not surprised anymore,” he said. “Before, maybe we’d have a fire that’d do this once or twice a year, and now, everything in the beginning of the fire season is burning explosively. It’s not going to get any better this year. … It’s like we’re at war.”

Nearly 4,000 firefighters were battling the Chimney fire Tuesday. 

In Santa Barbara County, the Rey fire, which has burned 29,664 acres, was 30% contained. The fire has reached the scar from the 2007 Zaca fire in the Los Padres National Forest, which is slowing its growth on its northeastern edge, fire officials said.

The Soberanes fire burning in Monterey County near Big Sur was 60% contained Tuesday. It has charred 87,316 acres and has been burning for more than a month after being ignited by an abandoned, illegal campfire. 

The Clayton fire in Lake County, which devastated the small town of Lower Lake, was 96% contained. It has burned nearly 4,000 acres. Authorities believe the fire was intentionally set by a man officials suspect of being a serial arsonist. 

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hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson


UPDATES:

2:05 p.m.: This article was updated with details on Hearst Ranch.

This article was originally published at 11:40 a.m.


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