the republic logo

Rain calms California wildfire that jumped interstate, burning cars, forcing drivers to flee

bug
Share/Save/Bookmark

LOS ANGELES — A rare summer storm helped firefighters advance Saturday on a wildfire that swept across a California interstate, torching vehicles and sending people running for their lives before burning property in a desert town.

Light rain and moist air dampened the blaze that began Friday afternoon in the mountainous Cajon Pass 55 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the main route connecting Southern California and Las Vegas.

"The weather really helped," U.S. Forest Service spokesman Travis Mason said.

The fire was sparked below the elevated lanes of Interstate 15. Pushed by 40 mph winds, it raced up a hill and onto the traffic-clogged freeway, trapping hundreds of people amid a cauldron of smoke, flames and ash.

Drivers and their passengers abandoned their cars as flames hopscotched down the freeway, destroying 20 vehicles, several of which exploded in fireballs.

"You could hear the explosions from people's vehicle tires popping from the heat," said Lance Andrade, a 29-year-old railroad conductor from nearby Apple Valley who found himself caught in the traffic jam just as the fire jumped the freeway. "You could hear crackling. Smoke was coming in every direction. You could feel the heat. We just waited it out and prayed to God."

As firefighters gained control of the freeway, the flames spread to the rural community of Baldy Mesa, destroying three homes and 44 vehicles, and forcing residents in the area to flee. At its height, the fire threatened about 700 structures in the area.

Evacuation orders for residents were lifted Saturday afternoon as firefighters contained 45 percent of the blaze, Mason said.

In all, the fire burned about 8 ½ square miles.

Amazingly, only two people were injured. Both suffered minor smoke inhalation, authorities said, but they declined medical attention.

California is in the midst of severe drought, and wildfires are common. Some break out near freeways, but it's very unusual to have vehicles caught in the flames.

It being a Friday afternoon, however, Interstate 15 was typically jammed with vehicles traveling between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Adding to the congestion was construction work in the area.

Firefighters also made progress on another wildfire that broke out Friday night in the San Gabriel Mountains and forced about 300 campers near the community of Wrightwood to flee.

The fire was 35 percent contained after burning about 200 acres. Pouring rain on Saturday helped the 150 firefighters on the line, though several lightning strikes forced them to stop working for a time.

PHOTO: An inmate crew from Big Pine marches to the fire line in the Cajon Pass and into the high desert, Friday, July 17, 2015, near San Bernadino, Calif. The fast-moving flames swept across a Southern California freeway, destroying numerous vehicles and sending motorists running to safety before burning at least five homes. (Terry Pierson/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT, SAN BERNADINO SUN OUT
An inmate crew from Big Pine marches to the fire line in the Cajon Pass and into the high desert, Friday, July 17, 2015, near San Bernadino, Calif. The fast-moving flames swept across a Southern California freeway, destroying numerous vehicles and sending motorists running to safety before burning at least five homes. (Terry Pierson/The Orange County Register via AP) MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT, SAN BERNADINO SUN OUT

Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!

Story copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Feedback, Corrections and Other Requests: AP welcomes feedback and comments from readers. Send an email to info@ap.org and it will be forwarded to the appropriate editor or reporter.


Video:
PHOTO: A fast-moving wildfire burned several cars Friday as it swept across the main freeway from Southern California to Las Vegas. (July 17)
A fast-moving wildfire burned several cars Friday as it swept across the main freeway from Southern California to Las Vegas. (July 17)
Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: A hand crew member starts a backfire along Baldy Mesa Road late Friday, July 17, 2015,  as the North Fire continues to burn near Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, Calif. Firefighters will focus Saturday on protecting some 700 homes in the Baldy Mesa area, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Carol Underhill said. About 2,800 people remained evacuated, with nearly three dozen spending the night at a temporary shelter.  (AP Photo/Kevin Warn)
Click to view (16 Photos)
We also have more stories about:
(click the phrases to see a list)

Category:

Follow The Republic:

All content copyright ©2015 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Privacy policy.