Both sides of Interstate 15, which travels through the Cajon Pass, were open Thursday and some evacuations were lifted as the ferocious, so-called Blue Cut Fire charred nearly 55 square miles in San Bernardino County.
The 215/15 northbound connector reopened by 10:15 p.m. Wednesday, according to the California Highway Patrol Inland Division. All but one of the southbound lanes were reopened Thursday around 10:45 a.m., according to the Calfornia Department of Transportation.
Residents of East Oak Hills and South Hesperia were allowed to return to their homes at 1 p.m., the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said. The evacuation was lifted for the areas east of the 15 Freeway to Santa Fe/Summit Valley Road and south of Ranchero Road to Highway 138. Santa Fe/Summit Valley Road and Arrowhead Lake Road/Highway7 173 will be reopened.
The remaining mandatory evacuations will be lifted when danger to residents has been reduced, the sheriff's department said.
Multiple school districts in the area continue to be closed due to poor air quality.
Hot, dry and breezy weather conditions are expected for Thursday, with red flag warnings in effect until 9 p.m.
A wildfire with a ferocity never seen before by veteran California firefighters raced up and down canyons, instantly engulfing homes and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee, some running for their lives just ahead of the flames.
By Thursday morning, two days after it ignited in San Bernardino County brush left bone dry by years of drought, the so-called Blue Cut Fire had blackened 31,600 acres in San Bernardino County and was four percent contained, firefighters said. The flames advanced despite the efforts of 1,300 firefighters.
Authorities could not immediately say how many homes had been destroyed, but they warned that the number will be large.
"There will be a lot of families that come home to nothing," San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said after flying over a fire scene he described as "devastating."
More than 34,000 homes and some 82,000 people were under evacuation warnings as firefighters concentrated their efforts on saving homes in the mountain communities of Lytle Creek, Wrightwood and Phelan. They implored residents not to think twice if told to leave, but it appears many were staying.
Six firefighters were briefly trapped by flames during the fire's early hours, when occupants of a home refused to leave and the crew stayed to protect them.
Hundreds of cars packed with belongings and animals left the town. The air for miles around the blaze was filled with smoke.
On Tuesday night, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.
"This is not the time to mess around," said Battalion Chief Mark Peebles of the San Bernardino County Fire Department. "If you are asked to evacuate, please evacuate."
The Blue Cut Fire, named because it started near a trail called Blue Cut, erupted at 10:36 a.m. Tuesday in the Cajon Pass near Kenwood Avenue west of Interstate 15.
The fire command assembled a fleet of 10 air tankers, 17 helicopters, 178 engines, 26 crews, 17 helicopters and an army of over 1,500 firefighters, many of them just off the lines of a wildfire that burned for 10 days just to the east. At a dawn briefing, half the firefighters raised their hands when an official asked how many had just come from the earlier blaze, part of a siege of wildland infernos up and down California this year.
The fire erupted in a landscape ready to burn after years of below-normal precipitation. The weather at the time was hot, dry and windy — conditions not expected to begin easing until late Thursday or Friday.
The pass is a major route for travel from the Los Angeles region to Las Vegas and also carries significant daily commuter traffic for high desert residents. The speed of the fire's spread astonished those in its path.
"This moved so fast," said Darren Dalton, 51, who along with his wife and son had to get out of his house in Wrightwood. "It went from 'Have you heard there's a fire?' to 'mandatory evacuation' before you could take it all in. This is a tight little community up here. Always in rally mode. Suddenly, it's a ghost town."
- All ramps closed at Kenwood Avenue, Cleghorn Road and Oakhill Road
- South Bound 395 closed at Joshua
- Highway 138 has been closed from Interstate 15 to Highway 2
- State Route 2 closed from LA County Line to the 138
- Hwy 138 closed between County Line to Highway 173
- Old Cajon Blvd north of Devore Cutoff
- Lytle Creek @ Glen Helen
- Beekley Road from Phelan Road to the 138
- Hwy 38 to Lone Pine Canyon
Alternate Routes, per CHP
- From the Valley to the High Desert: Interstate 10E to Highway 62N to Highway 247N to Highway 18W
- From High Desert to the Valley: Highway 18E to highway 247S to Highway 62S to Interstate 10W
- Adelanto Elementary School District
- Apple Valley Unified School District
- Barstow Unified School District
- Helendale School District
- Hesperia Unified School District
- Oro Grande School District
- Riverside Preparatory School
- San Bernardino City Unified School District
- Silver Valley Unified School District
- Snowline Joint Unified School District
- Victor Elementary School District
- Victor Valley Union High School District