Julie Dominguez was watching her kids play in the pool Friday afternoon when she first saw the fire.
When she realized the blaze wasn’t dying down, she wrangled about 10 family members and shoved them in her Chevy Suburban, along with two dogs, rabbits and a pig. She had a friend ride off with her horse.
Dominguez, still wearing her bathing suit at an evacuation center Friday night, recalled feeling the heat of the flames against her car as she drove away from her home in Phelan in San Bernardino County.
“It’s like I’m in a movie,” said Dominguez, 45. “My whole family almost died. It was that close.”
A fast-moving fire that broke out Friday afternoon in the Cajon Pass grew to cover 3,500 acres in just a few hours, burning four homes and threatening 50 more.
As of 9:30 p.m., officials said more than 1,000 firefighters were battling the blaze, which was 5% contained.
About that same time, 20 or so people crowded into an evacuation center at Serrano High School in Phelan, American Red Cross officials said. It wasn’t clear how many more were expected to come in the next few hours.
Emergency workers from the Red Cross unloaded green cots and set them up in the school’s sprawling gymnasium.
The few children who were inside the high school gym kicked around soccer balls and snacked on donated food while their parents chatted. Packs of bottled water sat nearby, and tables held boxes of pizza and granola bars.
Employees from nearby inns, hotels and motels said many families have booked rooms in now sold-out establishments.
Dominguez said that she initially didn’t think much of the blaze, because fires in the Cajon Pass are typically put out quickly.
But when planes stopped dropping water overhead because of a recreational drone in the air space, she said she knew it was time to find shelter elsewhere.
“I want to go home, but that we are all OK is all that matters," she said.
At the evacuation center, her son poured water for the dogs, Chico and Pedro, as a relief worker brought bowls for the dogs’ food.
Heavy winds and dry vegetation made the fire spread rapidly, officials said. It jumped Interstate 15, causing dozens of people to abandon their cars on the freeway. Ten vehicles were destroyed in the blaze, and 20 were damaged, officials said.
Among those seeking shelter at the high school was Bruno Anderson, 56, who said he smelled the smoke and saw the flames before he heard any reports on TV.
As he was driving away, he said, he heard nearby propane tanks explode.
“I knew my house was gone,” said Anderson, who has lived in Phelan for more than a decade.
Overwhelmed with a sense of panic, the IT worker said, he could feel his heart beating so fast he thought he was going to faint.
“I thought at one point I wasn’t going to make it,” he said.