Blue Cut fire evacuees face freeway closures and jammed back roads


The Cajon Pass is one of Southern California’s most vital transportation links, connecting Los Angeles to Las Vegas and serving as a key shipping route for trucks headed east with produce and goods.

The massive wildfire that ripped through the pass this week closed several major freeways and roads, causing a commuter nightmare that also complicated the massive evacuation effort. Motorists and truckers were left stranded on either side of the closure.

Officials closed dozens of miles of two major commuter and trucking arteries after flames from the Blue Cut Fire roared down a mountainside Tuesday night and jumped the 15 Freeway, damaging guardrails and scorching abandoned big-rig trucks.

A truck burned in the Blue Cut Fire near Interstate 15 in Lytle Creek, Calif.
A truck burned in the Blue Cut Fire near Interstate 15 in Lytle Creek, Calif.
(AFP / Getty Images )

Commuters and evacuees sought alternate routes to the 15 and Highway 138 on Wednesday, taking smaller, mountainous roads toward the high desert and to Los Angeles. Traffic snarled most roads in the area, with jams rippling outward to Yucca Valley in the east and to San Bernardino in the west.

California Highway Patrol officer Robert Vandecar parked his cruiser along the side of the Pearblossom Highway in Llano, where he turned back drivers headed south toward the fire and east toward Las Vegas.

“It’s a dynamic situation,” Vandecar told a group of people gathered on the side of the road next to his cruiser, and the roads needed to be cleared for emergency vehicles and evacuees.

Penny Koval, 53, waited anxiously for directions to Phelan, where her 95-year-old mother lives.

“I’m trying to get to her house to help her get things together,” Koval said. “They’re talking evacuation. I’m terrified.”


As she and other motorists tried to find a way in, dozens of other cars, some pulling trailers, tried to make their way out.

Raw video from Blue Cut fire near the Cajon Pass.

Nearly 35,000 homes and more than 82,000 residents in the area are under mandatory evacuation orders, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said. As a result, southbound mountain roads were gridlocked.

Aerial footage of the Pilot Travel Center in Hesperia showed trucks lined up in long rows outside the convenience store. A clerk there said more than a hundred truckers were waiting along Highway 395 for roads to reopen.

What impact the fire might have on goods movement is still unclear, said Shawn Yadon, chief executive for the California Trucking Assn.

BNSF also stopped trains through the area after the Blue Cut Fire scorched a stretch of freight railroad tracks that curve through the Cajon Pass.


Caltrans spokeswoman Terri Kasinga said the agency is working to install temporary K-rails along the northbound 15 Freeway to keep drivers away from guardrails damaged by the fire, but did not have an estimate of when the freeway would reopen.

Further complicating commutes, a big rig carrying 10 tons of peaches veered off the 18 Freeway northeast of Big Bear Lake on Wednesday morning and flipped on its roof, the California Highway Patrol said. A resulting spill narrowed the freeway to one lane for hours.

The CHP urged evacuees and commuters to drive safely, particularly on roads that are not equipped to handle such a high volume of traffic.

People heading toward Los Angeles should take Highway 18 to Highway 247 to Highway 62 to the 10 Freeway, a route that passes through the Lucerne and Yucca valleys, officials said.

Truckers and travelers headed to Las Vegas from Los Angeles should steer around the Cajon Pass closure by taking the 10 to the 62 to Highway 247.

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