California wildfire updates: Fast-moving fire in Santa Cruz mountains threatens structures

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A rash of fires this year has destroyed homes, subjected residents to evacuation orders and resulted in at least one death.

Here are some of the fires now burning in California:

  • Loma fire: 2,250 acres burned in the Santa Cruz mountains; destroyed seven structures, including one home; 10% contained as of Sept. 28; began Sept. 26.
  • Sawmill fire: 1,500 acres burned in Sonoma County; 55% contained as of Sept. 27; began Sept. 25.
  • Canyon fire: 12,518 acres burned at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County; fully contained; began Sept. 17
  • Soberanes fire: 128,380 acres burned, one person killed and 68 structures destroyed in Monterey County; 81% contained as of Sept. 27; began July 22

Loma fire destroys one home, triggers evacuations in Santa Cruz mountains

(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)

A fast-moving wildfire burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains has scorched at least 1,000 acres, destroyed a home and triggered evacuations.

Flames from the Loma fire are threatening at least 300 structures near Loma Prieta and Loma Chiquita roads, 10 miles northwest of Morgan Hill, in the mountains north of Santa Cruz, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Mandatory evacuations were issued to residents living in homes in the Loma area.

Triple-digit temperatures and dry conditions are driving the explosive blaze, which started about 3 p.m. Monday, according to Cal Fire Capt. Brian Oliver. The fire is 5% contained.

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Small brush fire erupts in Elysian Park near Dodger Stadium

Firefighters in Los Angeles on Thursday knocked down a 6.3-acre brush fire that started at 11:45 a.m. in Elysian Park near Dodger Stadium.

A water-dropping helicopter aided about 100 firefighters as they attacked the flames “hard and fast from the ground and the air,” the Los Angeles Fire Department said in a statement.

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High winds and low humidity will create dangerous fire conditions this week, forecasters say

Firefighters in Santa Clarita battled the Sand fire in July amid sweltering temperatures and heavy winds.
Firefighters in Santa Clarita battled the Sand fire in July amid sweltering temperatures and heavy winds.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Powerful winds, low humidity and landscapes left very dry from years of drought could create critical fire danger conditions in the Southland this week, starting Wednesday, forecasters said.

Gusty, northerly “sundowner” winds, with gusts up to 40 mph, are expected to begin Wednesday evening along the western edge of the Santa Ynez Mountains in Santa Barbara County, said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

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Firefighter killed, another injured in rollover crash while fighting Canyon fire

A Ventura County firefighter was killed and another was injured early Wednesday in a rollover crash near Lompoc as they were hauling water to the Canyon fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The firefighters were assigned to a water tender by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and headed to the 12,353-acre wildfire at about 6:20 a.m., when the rollover crash occurred on the westbound California 246, said Capt. Mike Lindbery, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

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Where is the Canyon Fire?

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‘Very active’ fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base grows to over 10,000 acres

A wildfire burning on the south side of Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc has more than doubled in size since the weekend and now covers 10,542 acres, Air Force officials said Tuesday.

The Canyon fire was 18% contained, and 633 firefighters from federal, state and local fire agencies were battling the blaze.

The fire was “very active” Monday, growing by about 6,000 acres on the north and west sides, Air Force officials said in a statement.

Cultural sites related to the Chumash people and wildlife habitats are potentially threatened by the fire, and there are watershed concerns, military officials said. A team of resources advisers is working with fire crews to identify what is being threatened.

No structures have been damaged.

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Where is the Soberanes fire?

The cost of fighting the 189-square-mile Soberanes fire burning near Big Sur has passed $200 million, making it the costliest to fight in U.S. history, according to federal data.

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Canyon fire near Vandenberg Air Force Base swells to 4,500 acres

A wildfire burning on the south side of Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc grew to 4,528 acres Monday despite an aggressive air and ground attack to stop flames from advancing.

Over the weekend, the Canyon fire forced officials to postpone the launch of an Atlas V rocket. The rocket was scheduled to take off Sunday and carry the WorldView-4, a commercial satellite that is to snap high-resolution images of Earth, according to United Launch Alliance, the contractor hired to lift the satellite into orbit.

The fire has caused power outages at several buildings on the base, according to Air Force officials. Generators are providing power to those facilities until downed power lines are repaired or replaced, they said.

The Air Force has further restricted public access to the site as crews worked to cut new fire lines and douse spot fires.

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1,200-acre wildfire at Vandenberg Air Force Base delays satellite launch

Nearly 800 firefighters from state, federal and local agencies have been dispatched to battle the Canyon fire burning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

The 1,200-acre blaze has forced officials to postpone the launch of a commercial satellite, authorities said.

“It’s burning in some very tough vegetation,” Wayne Seda, the assistant chief of the Vandenberg Fire Department, told reporters Sunday. “The fire grew rapidly.... It jumped roads at times and came out of the containment lines.”

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Where is the Holy fire burning?

The Holy fire in Orange County started in the early morning just east of Trabuco Canyon in the Cleveland National Forest.

The blaze wasn’t threatening any homes but was burning in steep, dry hillsides around Holy Jim Canyon that are difficult for firefighters to reach, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Larry Kurtz.

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Update on the Bogart fire in Riverside County: 1,250 acres have burned

Fire officials lifted evacuations for the Banning Bench area Tuesday night, allowing residents with valid identification to return home.

Authorities also said they believe the fire was caused by humans and have asked any witnesses who may have seen juveniles near the entrance to Bogart Park to call the arson hotline at (800) 633-2836.

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Firefighters on the scene of the Bogart fire

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700 displaced in fast-moving Bogart fire near Beaumont

About 700 people were displaced Tuesday as a fast-moving brush fire burned out of control near Beaumont.

The Bogart fire had burned at least 500 acres and was at 0% containment. About 200 homes were evacuated, according to Cal Fire.

It was burning north of Beaumont in Cherry Valley near the intersection of Winesap Avenue and International Park Road.

One outbuilding was lost, Cal Fire said.

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Fast-moving Bogart fire in Riverside County jumps to 400 acres; evacuations ordered

A fast-moving vegetation fire in Cherry Valley spread to 400 acres Tuesday afternoon, prompting evacuations for residents of a mobile home park and some homes northwest of Banning, authorities said.

The Bogart fire was reported at 12:25 p.m. near the intersection of Winesap Avenue and International Park Road, according to the Riverside County fire department.

Within an hour, the blaze jumped to 100 acres, then quadrupled by 3 p.m., fire officials said.

Residents were evacuated in the Highland Springs Village mobile home park and Banning Bench, a rural plateau northwest of Banning. An evacuation center was opened at the Albert A. Chatigny Senior Community Center in Beaumont.

More than 320 firefighters have been assigned to combat the blaze. They are being assisted by five helicopters, two bulldozers and nine air tankers.

Cherry Valley is located off I-10 in Riverside County, with a population of more than 6,300, census records show.

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New wildfire threatening homes in Kern County

A new fire broke out Friday in Kern County, prompting officials to ask some residents to evacuate.

The Range fire was burning in the Bear Valley Springs area. More than 600 acres have burned. According to the Kern County Fire Department, more than 400 firefighters were on scene and some were doing structure protection.

The fire is 0% contained. It was burning east of the town of Arvin off Highway 223.

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California wildfire updates: Stark drone video shows devastation from Lake County fire

The Clayton fire in Lake County destroyed scores of home and carved a path of destruction through Lower Lake’s downtown area.

New drone footage shows the aftermath of the fire.

KRON-TV said it used the drone after air restrictions were lifted by firefighters.

A Lake County man has been charged with intentionally setting the fire.

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Hearst Castle remains closed as Chimney blaze vexes firefighters

The Chimney fire in San Luis Obispo County was burning Tuesday about two miles east of Hearst Castle, where for days crew have been protecting the tourist attraction by cutting multiple fire lines.

The historic 165-room estate remains closed, and tours are canceled through Sunday, California State Parks said in a statement. Visitors with reservations through the weekend will be contacted about refunds, officials said.

The Chimney fire has challenged firefighters, who thought they had gained the upper hand before winds picked up and it exploded over the weekend, officials said. The blaze was mostly moving north, but fire crews were preparing for the winds to shift on Tuesday, said Cal Fire Capt. Lucas Spelman.

The fire is burning over a large area that has created dramatically different firefighting conditions, he said.

On the western side of the fire, closer to the ocean, high humidity on Monday 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, 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. 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.”

— Cal Fire Capt. Lucas Spelman

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Destructive Blue Cut fire is fully contained

A light pole with plastic globes melted in the heat of the Blue Cut fire stands along Tamarind Avenue in Phelan.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Blue Cut fire, now fully contained after burning for one week near the Cajon Pass, 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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Where is the Chimney fire burning?

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Where are California’s fires?

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Hearst Castle still closed, but Chimney fire’s progress is slowed

The Chimney fire expanded to 24,096 acres Saturday night as fire teams worked to prevent its advance toward historic Hearst Castle and other communities.

The fire’s leading edge was about two miles from the National Historic Landmark and museum Saturday, and firefighters have managed to arrest the fire’s advance by concentrating trucks and firefighters in the area between the castle and the fire. Winds and temperatures were also cooperating.

The castle remains closed to visitors.

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Images of the Chimney fire as it threatens Hearst Castle

The Chimney fire is now at 17,000 acres and threatening Hearst Castle.

Here are some images from the scene:

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Threatened by Chimney fire, Hearst Castle closes until further notice

The Chimney fire in San Luis Obispo County is threatening Hearst Castle and the buildings around it, Cal Fire authorities said Saturday afternoon.

The fire was headed toward the national historic landmark and the leading edge was just two miles away, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Emily Hjortstorp. Crews are expecting winds of up to 20 mph, but the fire isn’t traveling especially fast, she said.

Bulldozers, trucks and firefighters are digging containment lines around the castle, Hjorstorp said. No evacuation orders have been issued for the area.

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Destructive Blue Cut fire is 68% contained

Miguel and Mabel Ramos, both 73, survey the devastation of the Blue Cut fire after it swept through their Oak Hills residence.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Firefighters tightened their grip on the fast-moving Blue Cut fire overnight Friday, capitalizing on humid weather conditions to gain greater control over the 37,020-acre blaze, authorities said Saturday.

The fire, which is 68% contained, has destroyed 105 homes and 213 other structures in San Bernardino County since it broke out Tuesday for reasons investigators are still trying to determine.

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Blue Cut fire in the Cajon Pass destroys 105 homes and 213 other buildings

About 10 buildings belonging to the Thanksgiving Korean Church were reduced to rubble by the Blue Cut fire.
About 10 buildings belonging to the Thanksgiving Korean Church were reduced to rubble by the Blue Cut fire.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The tally for California’s harsh fire season ascended to even grimmer terrain Saturday as officials announced that the Blue Cut fire in the Cajon Pass has destroyed 105 homes and 213 other structures.

The toll in San Bernardino County caps a week of extensive losses across California, including 300 structures destroyed in Lake County in Northern California when a wildfire raced through the town of Lower Lake, hammering its downtown area.

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Satellite imagery shows the Blue Cut fire’s huge burn area

This “false color” image from NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite uses a combination of color and infrared bands to help distinguish burn scars and hotspots from vegetation.

The Blue Cut fire has scorched more than 37,000 acres so far. Satellite imagery captured Thursday shows the extent of the burn area. The Pilot fire to the east burned about 8,000 acres and was 100% contained by Tuesday.

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Korean church retreat burned to the ground in Blue Cut fire

Down a narrow dirt road off Highway 138 in Phelan, a popular Korean church retreat center sat in ruins.

About 10 buildings belonging to the Thanksgiving Korean Church were left in large piles of rubble Friday afternoon. Rows of scorched metal chairs remained standing in some buildings. Damaged sinks, stoves and washers in others suggest that they may have been used as living quarters.

Jinny Lee, owner of a cafe off Highway 138, walked past one singed building after another, trying to remember the one where the actual church services would take place.

“Maybe it’s this building,” Lee, 55, said, as she looked at the row of charred furniture.

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Woman loses 135 animals, beloved guesthouse in Blue Cut fire

The last time Mabel Ramos saw her peach-colored home was through the rear view mirror of her car as she was pulling out of her driveway soon after the Blue Cut fire started. She saw flames as high as an electricity pole surrounding her property.

“I was thinking, ‘Our Lord dear father, his son Jesus and the Holy Spirit, please, when I leave this gate, take care of my house,’” she said.

Ramos returned to her home late Thursday afternoon. When she got to the gate, she saw the charred Jaguar that she and her husband had driven off in after getting married. Then she saw the guesthouse that she and her husband had built together, now a pile of rubble.

“I cried,” she said. “It was terrible.”

On Friday she stood in what was once the living room of the guesthouse. The charred metal frame of a coffee table stood nearby. Other part of the house were still standing, including a cast iron wood stove.

She said the guesthouse was special. Her grandmother from El Salvador would stay at the guesthouse whenever she visit. Family from Canada also would use it. Her son, who lives in Los Angeles, used it as second home.

The shed that kept the animals also burned down. She lost 135 of her livestock.

“I didn’t have time to even open the door,” she said before crying.

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Blue Cut fire evacuations lifted for parts of Phelan

Effective Friday at 1 p.m., the mandatory evacuation orders for Phelan residents west of Baldy Mesa Road to Wilson Ranch Road south of Phelan Road to Mission Street affected by the Blue Cut fire will be lifted, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

Baldy Mesa Road south of Phelan Road will reopen.

Eastbound Highway 138 from Interstate 15 to Summit Valley will also reopen.

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‘We have been arresting looters’: Deputies patrol Blue Cut fire evacuation zones

Assistant San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus reassured Blue Cut fire evacuees Friday that his department’s primary focus was the protection of evacuated areas.

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New fire burning on Grapevine, homes threatened

A new fire was reported Friday in the Grapevine near the town of Lebec in Kern County.

There was no immediate size provided, but officials said some homes were threatened.

Interstate 5 remains open at this time.

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Rey fire grows to 1,000 acres and is still 20% contained

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Blue Cut fire has destroyed nearly 100 homes

The Blue Cut fire raging in the Cajon Pass has destroyed nearly 100 homes, officials said Friday as firefighters focused their efforts on areas near the mountain resort town of Wrightwood, where dry brush hasn’t burned in years.

According to preliminary estimates released by San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig, 96 homes and 213 outbuildings have been destroyed by the fire, which has consumed 37,000 acres.

Wrightwood on the west flank of the fire is dotted with apartments and small homes and has the highest housing density in the area.

The blaze is 26% contained, officials said, up from 22% Thursday evening.

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Truck driver in Cajon Pass ‘just kept driving’ and prayed the freeway would reopen

Kevin Holladay had a lot of time to think about whether he would risk the drive on the 15 Freeway.

He was on the road from Illinois to Anaheim to reload his tanker truck with chemicals. But there was a problem: The Blue Cut fire had closed the freeway.

Holladay, a thin man with blue eyes, long gray hair and a thick horseshoe mustache, said he listened to the news on the radio to keep tabs on the fire.

“I just kept driving,” he said, as he stood at the truck stop just off Highway 138 on Friday morning.

The Outpost Cafe sat nearby, a slogan hanging from its wooden roof: “The Place for meeting, eatin’ and getting gas.”

Holladay said he was praying the flames would calm down -- not because of the drive, but because of the destruction. He said his thoughts drifted to residents whose homes and animals were threatened by the wildfire.

He said that as he crossed into Nevada, he saw road signs that said the southbound 15 Freeway was still closed. At Las Vegas, another sign: still closed.

“I followed my instinct,” said Holladay, 53.

At the California-Nevada border, he saw another sign: The freeway was open. As he drove through the area, he saw some of the damage left behind.

“I was shocked,” he said. “Stuff you’ve seen for years is gone.”

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‘We were laughing. Then we realized, this is really serious. We need to get out,’ Santa Barbara camper says

The Rey fire broke out about 3:30 p.m. near a campground in the Los Padres National Forest.
(Santa Barbara County Fire Department)

Kyle Joachim and his wife were driving back to their campsite in Santa Barbara County when they saw a strip of the hillside go up in smoke. Curious, the couple pulled over to take a look at what had happened.

As they watched the flames fan out, Joachim called 911.

“I couldn’t believe how quickly it spread,” he said.

Joachim, 36, and his family had been staying at the Fremont campsite. The edge of the Rey fire was only about a mile from the site, he said.

The seven of them had spent two days hiking around the area -- including parts of the forest that are now up in flames -- played games and checked out nearby restaurants.

They had planned on staying until Friday morning, but around 3:45 p.m. Thursday, a sheriff’s deputy came to the site and told the campsite host that everyone needed to evacuate.

A wildfire had erupted near the White Rock day use area nearby, the deputy told him. Joachim and his family quickly packed up their two tents and loaded their gear into their cars.

About a dozen people were staying at the campsite, Joachim said. Large signs at the entrance had advised campers that they could only make fires in designated areas, he said.

“The camp host came around the first day and was very specific that we could only have fire in the firepits,” Joachim said. “They had jugs of water next to the pits that said, ‘For fire only.’”

After speaking with the deputy, the camp host seemed panicked, Joachim recalled.

“At first we were laughing. Then we realized, this is really serious. We need to get out,” he said.

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Blue Cut fire grows to 37,002 acres and is 26% contained

A firefighting helicopter makes water drops to keep errant fires from approaching the train tracks near the 15 Freeway at Keenbrook in San Bernardino County.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The raging Blue Cut fire in the Cajon Pass grew to 37,002 acres Friday morning, fire officials said.

Crews continued to focus on communities west of the fire, such as Lytle Creek and the mountain resort town of Wrightwood, which is dotted with apartments and small homes and has the highest housing density in the area.

The blaze is now 26% contained.

Firefighters centered their efforts on Lone Pine Canyon Road, the backdoor into Wrightwood, in hopes of preventing the flames from jumping over the ridge. Still, gusty winds, high temperatures and low humidity persist and could create the same challenges that have haunted crews since the fire broke out Tuesday.

Although the Blue Cut fire calmed slightly overnight and halted its march north and east, a red-flag warning remains in effect.

Some signs of progress were evident Thursday afternoon.

Mandatory evacuations were lifted in several communities, and Caltrans reopened the 15 Freeway, a key trucking and commuter route that runs from San Diego, through the Inland Empire and across the Mojave Desert into Nevada.

Its two-day closure had contributed to massive congestion, creating nightmares for both travelers and those trying to evacuate.

Highway 138, another major roadway in the area, was expected to remain closed until further notice, according to the California Highway Patrol.

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Fast-moving wildfire burning above Santa Barbara; evacuations ordered

A 500-acre brush fire north of Santa Barbara is burning out of control Thursday evening.

The Rey Fire was racing through dry forestland off Paradise Road amid winds and temperatures in the 90s, accoridng to Mike Eliason, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Caltrans said a portion of Highway 154 was closed and urged motorist to use U.S. 101 as an alterative route.

Officials said some mountain cabins have been evacuated.

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Blue Cut fire continues to grow as some evacuation orders are lifted

Hotshot crew members work to build a fire line north of the Lytle Creek neighborhood.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The Blue Cut fire grew to 35,969 acres by Thursday night -- an increase of more than 4,000 acres since the morning, authorities said.

Firefighters also increased their containment of the blaze to 22%, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The containment previously was 4%.

The unruly blaze is continuing its northerly march toward the high desert communities of Phelan, Wrightwood, Baldy Mesa and South Hesperia, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Lytle Creek, a small mountainous community along the fire’s southwestern flank, was also under threat, officials said.

Some evacuation orders were lifted Thursday afternoon, including East Oak Hills and South Hesperia. Later in the day, authorities also allowed residents in West Oak Hills to return.

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Woman who lost everything to fire years ago refuses to be ‘blindsided’ again

Thirteen years ago, when the Grand Prix fire erupted in Lytle Creek, Sheri Sladwick had little time to pack. She stuffed her children, dogs and some clothes in the car before racing down the mountain to safety.

She returned to nothing.

Her two-story rental home, six family cars and treasured crystal collection disappeared in the flames.

On Tuesday, when San Bernardino sheriff deputies issued a mandatory evacuation as a fast-moving brush fire exploded in the Cajon Pass, Sladwick took time to pack the things she could not live without.

“This time I took a little longer because I didn’t expect to come home to anything again,” she said Thursday at a Red Cross evacuation center where residents forced to flee their home found refuge from the Blue Cut fire.

For an hour, she ran back and forth between her car and the sprawling lot where her three-bedroom home sat. She filled her Jeep Cherokee with three dogs, clothes, tools and her beloved crystal beads.

“I couldn’t stop to be choosy,” Sladwick, 46, said. “There were too many things that if I stopped and thought about it I just would’ve said, ‘Aw, I need this.’ There was just not enough room or time.”

Her belongings still block the back window of her truck, which is parked outside the Jessie Turner Community Center. There, in the parking lot, Sladwick strung up two blankets between two trucks to provide shade from the brutal sun.

She said she’s still reeling from the evacuation.

“That was the last thing I expected to do that day,” she said. “I had other things to do. I don’t even remember what was so important right before that that I worried about getting done. Now, I don’t even think about it.”

She has other concerns.

Her phone has been buried in the mess in her truck. She can’t bear to watch the news, worried that she might see her home. The last two nights she has slept in her truck because the shelter won’t allow pets.

Neighbors told her that her community center was destroyed, friends’ homes were lost and other structures burned. Later, she was told that the fire never made its way down into her enclave. She doesn’t know what to believe.

“Last time, I thought we were good,” she said. “I was blindsided. I don’t want to be blindsided again.”

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Suspected looters arrested in Blue Cut fire evacuation area

Three people were arrested on suspicion of looting in a Blue Cut fire evacuation area Thursday morning, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

Daniel Mervine, 27, of Jurupa; Natasha Rovinsky, 27, of Diamond Bar; and Trevor Sanchez, 29, of Riverside, were arrested on suspicion looting and grand theft auto, according to the department.

The trio were spotted driving a large flat-bed truck from a residence in the 8600 block of Swarthout Canyon, in unincorporated San Bernardino County, at 7 a.m.

“The suspects told deputies they were picking up property for a friend that lived at the residence. Deputies made contact with the property owner who advised that he did not give anyone permission to take his property,” a department statement said.

Anyone with further information on suspected looting is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Central Station at (909) 387-3545.

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Authorities lift some evacuation orders connected to Blue Cut fire

Santa Fe/Summit Valley Road and Arrowhead Lake Road/Highway 173 are now open, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Highway 138 remains closed at the 15 Freeway, east to Summit Valley Road, officials said.

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‘We’ve been through a few of these,’ says resident who stayed to protect home from Blue Cut fire

Michael Barnes has lived in his home along Highway 138 for about 23 years. When the Blue Cut fire erupted Tuesday, he and his family stayed.

“We’ve been through a few of these and we stay here,” he said. “We keep it pretty much pushed back to give us a chance. The fire department, they rolled in and they rolled out before the fire hit. We were here to stop the fire. I don’t know where they went.”

He and his family have dealt with four fires, including this one, he said.

The fire came from the southeast. His family saw it coming and began using a tractor to clear brush as trees near their home caught fire.

Family members ran around with buckets and hoses and used a water truck to put out hot spots.

“I’m glad it’s still here,” Barnes said of his home.

A construction company let the family use its equipment, which included the tractor and water truck, he said.

“It saved a few homes,” Barnes said. “We were using that to try and help others out.”

The water truck helped save the home of a neighbor Barnes had sent his son to check on.

“He got up there and came running back down and said he was in bad shape,” he said. “So we went up there and helped him out. Pretty much everything around his house burnt. He lost his tools, his barn, his equipment. But his house is standing.”

Others along Highway 138 were less fortunate, including a few neighbors who lived behind Barnes.

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As fire threatens his home, a Phelan man flees to his van

John Paik, 77, has lived on a steep hill off Highway 138 for a decade, but on Tuesday, he fled to a friend’s house as the Blue Cut fire crept toward his home in Phelan.

The fire burned a small lot filled with cars about 100 feet from his home, but so far, Paik’s house has been spared.

Paik said he has lived intermittently in his van over the last two days. When he left his house Tuesday night, he said, he didn’t bring anything with him, but returned to his powerless home the next day to get clothes and his passport.

“The firemen worked hard,” he said. “I had … confidence, maybe overconfidence, so I just brought nothing.”

As Paik drove in his van (which was stocked with cat food in the front seat), he stopped twice to chat with his neighbors. One asked Paik for an update on the fire.

Paik said he plans on staying in the area, for fear that if he leaves, it may be hard to get back up the dirt road to his home.

Asked why he moved to the desert, Paik said it reminds him of home in South Korea, filled with dirt roads and rolling hills and occasionally dusted with snow.

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No clear path to extinguishing Blue Cut fire, expert says

A helicopter makes a water drop in very dense smoke from Blue Cut Fire smoldering in the hills along Highway 2 near Wrightwood.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Fire crews’ safety is always high on the list of priorities for first responders battling explosive flames, said Sam Lanier, a retired fire captain.

Firefighters use standard guidelines to maneuver amid a fire, he said, prioritizing life safety over property conservation and property conservation over environmental protection. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

“It helps the firefighters,” he said, “but every fire is different. There’s not a set ‘If this is happening, do this.’ It’s all up to the best judgment of the firefighters.”

Aircraft are the biggest help in fighting a massive blaze like the Blue Cut fire, said Lanier. As the air attack crews explore the land from above, they broadcast the problem areas to field troops over the radio.

“There is no premade map to say we’re going to protect this area first,” Lanier said. “It’s what they see on the ground and what they see in the air that determines whatever they can do to help to mitigate the firefight.”

There is a common misconception that firefighters will protect the most expensive properties or biggest towns first, Lanier said, but that’s never the case.

“Firefighters are blind to the cost,” he said. “The job is to go and save as much as possible.”

The difficulties firefighters throughout the state face are compounded by drought conditions, he said. The drought leads to “beetle kill,” he said, referring to when beetles harvest and live on dry pine.

The insects essentially infect the trees, leaving them bone-dry, ready to ignite.

Fire crews in the Cajon Pass have likely had difficulty assessing the damage and number of homes lost because of safety concerns and protocol that grants wildland firefighters the right of way over those who assess.

“It can affect the wildland firefighting if there’s multiple vehicles out there,” Lanier said. “The engines have to get to the homes and get into the other areas. If multiple vehicles are there, it’s hard to get out.”

Utility companies are not allowed on roads either, he added, because first responders want to keep the vehicle count on the roads low.

Crews are likely now focused on perimeter control, Lanier said.

“That’s always a very tough one when you’ve got very active winds and fuels that are extremely dry,” he said. “It’s been a long fire season.”

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Beverly Hills firefighters aid dogs that survived Blue Cut fire

While on patrol in Phelan looking to mop up spots fire, Beverly Hills firefighters paused to assist two dogs that appeared to suffer from smoke inhalation.

The firefighters left two silver buckets for the dogs -- one with food and another with water.

The dogs were eventually recovered by San Bernardino County animal control officers.

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Blue Cut fire wreaks havoc along Highway 138

The earth around Highway 138 is scorched. The power poles that stand are blackened. Others, their wood splintered, lean.

A pinwheel spins in a backyard, near the smoldering carcass of a home. Nearby, in a garden, a sign creaks, swaying gently in the breeze. It reads:

“The kiss of the sun for pardon

The song of the birds for mirth

Ones is nearer God’s <3 in a garden

Than any place on earth”

The wood that holds up the entrance to the garden is charred and one of the doors is burned black.

Inside the garden, crosses are planted bearing names and dates. One of them reads “RIP,” with one of the wooden pieces hanging after being scorched by the fire.

Farther down the road, the wheels of a burned car are almost gone.

The breeze stirs up the ash, sending it swirling along the ruins.

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On Lone Pine Canyon Road, pieces of a charred house remain

There are only three homes here on Lone Pine Canyon Road — two at least partially saved, one destroyed.

The destroyed house, small and built of rocks and cement, was charred by the Blue Cut fire that swept through this area in recent days. On Thursday, it sat blackened at the end of Lone Pine Canyon — a long, narrow dirt road that winds past oil drums.

A thin plastic pipe attached to the house leaked water, and panels from the home’s tin roof dangled among charred cans — some forced open by the heat of the fire. The metal frame of a bed and a toilet seat remained, shattered.

A second building on the same property also laid in rubble, though weeds sprouting through cracks of the building’s foundation suggested it long had been unoccupied.

Only a chimney survived the destruction.

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Fire spokesman: Homes lost in Swarthout Canyon and West Cajon Valley; Wrightwood and Lytle Creek are under threat

The Blue Cut fire calmed slightly overnight and halted its march north and east, fire officials said Thursday morning.

But communities to the west of the fire — such as Wrightwood and Lytle Creek — remain threatened, said Eric Sherwin, an incident-response spokesman with the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

“Of all the communities under mandatory evacuation, the highest housing density exists within the community of Wrightwood,” Sherwin said.

The mountain-resort town is filled with apartments and small homes — not the sprawling ranch-style properties that dot the landscape in surrounding neighborhoods, Sherwin said.

If the fire behaves Thursday similar to how it did Wednesday, crews fighting the flames will face challenges.

The heat from the fire, fueled by dry brush, has created intense flames that have pushed through the retardants laid down by air crews, Sherwin said.

“Multiple times yesterday the fire jumped the retardant line,” Sherwin said. “We have the potential for that type of activity to return.”

Because the fire is still exhibiting erratic behavior, damage assessors have not been able to survey the destruction caused by the blaze, officials said. But they say that they know homes have been lost in Swarthout Canyon and West Cajon Valley.

Firefighters are focusing on Lone Pine Canyon Road — a backdoor to Wrightwood — to prevent the blaze from jumping over the ridge and into the mountain community. But nature is not on the firefighters’ side, as gusty winds, high temperatures and low humidity persist.

Explosive fire behavior, typically seen between 2 and 4 p.m., is occurring as early as 10 a.m., officials said.

“This fire,” Sherwin said, “is large and complex.”

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After long delay, 15 Freeway open in both directions again through Cajon Pass

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Putting out hot spots along Highway 2

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CHP says southbound 15 Freeway is reopening

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Scared and alone in Lytle Creek, resident waits for the lights to come on

A greeting painted along Lytle Creek Road welcomed residents to the area Thursday morning, though the town seemed mostly deserted. The sun’s rays highlighted the fire retardant-covered ridges and caution tape fluttered in a slight breeze outside empty homes.

Maria Hadaway, 62, likened it to a “SpongeBob SquarePants” episode in which the cartoon character wakes up alone in his town.

“That’s me -- I’m SpongeBob in Bikini Bottom,” she said. “It’s pretty scary. ... I’m hoping they let everyone up here, because I don’t like being alone.”

Hadaway, who has lived in her home off Lytle Creek Road for about 13 years, stayed because of her dogs. Sitting outside her home with a neighbor Thursday, she said authorities had come to her door, but Hadaway locked up, closed the drapes and didn’t answer.

Until Wednesday, Hadaway hadn’t worried much, but when the lights went out and the smell of smoke filled the air, she said she “got scared.”

Although the community still has water, Hadaway said her supply runs on an electric pump. So she’s been going to a creek near her home to fill buckets full of water to flush the toilet.

“I just wish the electricity would come back on,” Cestari said.

Meanwhile, fire trucks zipped up and down Lytle Creek Road on Thursday, a welcome sight for Hadaway, “because then I know everything’s OK.”

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Twitter user captures Blue Cut fire in stunning time-lapse video

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Blue Cut fire leaves behind a tangled mess

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Work crews prepare to repair downed power lines damaged by the Blue Cut fire on Highway 138 at the junction with the 15 Freeway.

See more photos from the Blue Cut fire >

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The wait continues on the southbound 15 Freeway as Blue Cut fire rages

As the Blue Cut fire continues to grow, authorities are stopping traffic at multiple locations.

Traffic heading west on Main Street is being stopped at Highway 395. Drivers are being asked to get on the 395 and head north.

Meanwhile, cars heading west into Phelan on Bear Valley Road are being stopped before reaching Baldy Mesa Road -- a key Phelan artery that runs north and south.

Truckers are feeling the pain of the continued closure of the southbound 15 Freeway. About 25 big rigs are parked in dirt lots and along curbs near Main Street in Hesperia.

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Full moon shines light on destruction from Blue Cut fire

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Blue Cut fire leaves smoldering ruins behind