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Homes burn near Cajon Pass as wildfire forces thousands to seek shelter: ‘It seems so final’

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Raw video from Blue Cut fire near the Cajon Pass.

The wall of flames first peeked over the ridge near Bonnie Hutter’s trailer home late Tuesday morning.

Hutter, 61, hoped and prayed the Blue Cut fire would stall, sparing her home in Lytle Creek. She waited as helicopters scooped water from a nearby lake and disappeared into the smoke.

But by the afternoon, the encroaching flames seemed apocalyptic. It was clear she and her partner had to leave, so she packed up her medicine, clothes and 9-month-old dog.

“It’s heartbreaking to watch the fire,” Hutter said. “It seems so final — the destruction. It burns homes, and all the people’s lives — everything they own — goes up in flames.”

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Hutter and her partner were among more than 82,000 people forced to evacuate as a brush fire exploded Tuesday morning in the Cajon Pass, destroying homes and other structures and shutting down the 15 Freeway, a main route between Southern California and Las Vegas.

By Wednesday morning, the inferno had spread to about 30,000 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The blaze was fed by winds ranging from 15 to 25 mph, with some gusts forecast to reach up to 45 mph. The National Weather Service said a surge of dry air occurred over the San Bernardino Mountains during the afternoon, sending the dew point below zero as the temperature soared to 107 degrees.

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The Blue Cut fire burns out of control on both sides of Highway 138 in Summit Valley.
The Blue Cut fire burns out of control on both sides of Highway 138 in Summit Valley.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times )

Estimates of the destruction were not available, but the scattered locations of structures engulfed by flames suggested catastrophe across a wide swath of the High Desert.

At least 10 homes were destroyed in Summit Valley as the fire roared along Highway 138. The Summit Inn, a popular roadside diner near the crest of the Cajon Pass, burned to the ground. Homes along Highway 138 in Phelan met a similar fate.

At the Jessie Turner Community Center in Fontana, more than 60 families had checked in, according to the Red Cross. Others had sought shelter at Sultana High School in Hesperia.

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“It burns homes, and all the people’s lives — everything they own — goes up in flames.”

Bonnie Hutter, fire evacuee

Mike Martin, 65, was forced to seek cover at the Fontana evacuation center while he was commuting home from his job in Irvine.

An automated call from the San Bernardino County sheriff’s office alerted him at about 4 p.m. that the Cajon Pass had closed, removing his only route to his home in Phelan.

Martin said he grabbed food from Carl’s Jr. and checked in at the community center.

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A firefighter radios that the Blue Cut fire is burning on both sides of Highway 138.
A firefighter radios that the Blue Cut fire is burning on both sides of Highway 138.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times )

His wife Melody, meanwhile, had turned the couple’s home into another impromptu evacuation center. There, eight people, seven dogs, and two cats took temporary refuge, he said.

At the shelter, Martin still wore his dark-colored shirt and tan slacks — his work uniform — and followed updates on Twitter about the growth of the fire.

He worried what might befall his home. But his concern also went to the more than 700 firefighters assigned to rout the fire.

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He recalled how difficult it is to battle a wildfire at night: for two years he volunteered with the Chico State Fire Rangers while attending college.

“You can get quickly disoriented,” Martin said. “You got either a shovel or pulaski in your hand and you’re trying to separate burning from non-burning, scratching a fire line in that bare earth. It’s hard. It’s hot.”

Nearby in the shelter, Pat Castaneda also fretted about her home in Lytle Creek. She’s currently remodeling her century-old wooden house, but fled with her musical instruments — two guitars, a banjo and mandolin — shortly after the evacuation order was issued.

She also brought along the tools she used to renovate her home, but as night fell, she wondered why.

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“If my house burns down,” she said, “I won’t need them.”

Jennings reported from Fontana and Hamilton from Los Angeles. Times staff photojournalists Francine Orr and Gina Ferazzi contributed to this report.

angel.jennings@latimes.com

Twitter: @AngelJennings

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matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno.

MORE ON THE FIRE

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