At Least 96 Homes Destroyed In Massive Southern California Wildfire

"It moved with an intensity and a ferocity that our firefighters have not seen before."

At least 96 homes have been destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire that scorched through more than 35,000 acres in four days in Southern California, authorities said.

Much of the destruction was caused in the first two days of the fire, doubling in size in a matter and hours and outpacing firefighters on the ground who were trying to contain it.

"It moved with an intensity and a ferocity that our firefighters have not seen before," San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark A. Hartwig said at a press conference Friday morning. "It moved erratically with a wide front."

The fire, located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, started Tuesday morning in the Cajon Pass west of Interstate 15 — the main route connecting Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

But Hartwig said the fire moved so quickly, consuming dry brush in temperatures that lingered in the upper 90s, that fire and law enforcement officials focused much of their efforts in the early hours on getting people to safety and out of the fire's path.

At one point, more than 82,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation.

In some instances, residents were driven out of their communities aboard fire trucks, hampering firefighting efforts, officials said.

A time-lapse video of the fire posted online Wednesday shows the fire burning overnight, with smoke billowing over San Bernardino County.

View this video on YouTube

Besides the 96 homes burned, another 213 out buildings were destroyed and three homes were damaged by the flames, Hartwig said, as well as a still unknown number of vehicles.

"We know there are going to be people that come home to nothing in a fire like this, that seemed to burn at will and literally jump a half-mile ahead of itself," he said.

As of Friday morning, the fire was 26% contained.

The California Department of Transportation reopened Interstate 15 on Wednesday night and the following day officials announced some residents would be allowed to return home, including residents for East Oak Hills and South Hesperia.

More residents were expected to be allowed back home on Friday, officials said.

The mandatory evacuation orders affected some 34,500 homes as the flames raced through the area in a north and northwest direction.

As the Blue Cut fire nearly doubled in size, so did the number of firefighters on the ground with more than 1,500 battling the flames. By Thursday afternoon, the fire's quick pace seemed to have slowed down, though nearly 50-square miles burned.

The flames are expected to continue moving widely in a northern direction, toward the direction of Wrightwood, Victor Valley, Phelan, and Baldy Mesa, according to the incident report.

Deputies and fire officials raced to issue evacuation orders as the fire grew and, by late Tuesday, announced a mandatory evacuation for the entire town of Wrightwood, a mountain community of more than 4,500 people.

California Gov. Jerry Brown also declared a state of emergency in San Bernardino County, opening up state resources to residents affected.

One of the losses in what was fast becoming a devastating fire was the Summi Inn, a former hotel and historic restaurant that was once a popular stop along Route 66.

The general manager of the restaurant, Michelle Ranck, told the Daily Press she was in disbelief.

The restaurant served locals, travelers and celebrities since 1952.

San Bernardino National Forest and Cal Fire officials are using 178 fire engines to tackle the fire, including resources that they have requested from neighboring agencies.

Firefighters are also looking to fight the flames from the air with 12 air tankers and eight helicopters making continuous water and fire retardant drops.

Six firefighters were trapped by the flames while defending homes Tuesday and helping residents evacuate Swarthout Canyon. The firefighters were able to shelter in place, but two suffered minor injuries.

Both firefighters were treated at a nearby hospital, released, and reassigned back in to fight the fire, officials said.

The fire was sparked as temperatures in the area soared above 100 degrees with very low humidity. On Wednesday, temperatures were expected to remain in the high 90s.

The massive wildfire was not the only one burning in the drought-parched state.

In Northern California's Lake County, more than 4,000 acres burned in the Clayton Fire, which destroyed 175 structures in the town of Lower Lake. The blaze was 40% contained as of Wednesday, according to Cal Fire.

The fire was determined to be arson and on Monday, the Lake County Sheriff's Department announced the arrest of a resident, Damin Pashilk, in connection with the blaze.

The cause of the Blue Cut fire has not been determined.

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