Firefighters Fear Winds, Brush Will Make Pilot Fire a ‘Blowtorch'

Firefighters fear shifting winds and abundant fuel will make the Pilot Fire a "blowtorch" in the San Bernardino Mountains as mandatory evacuations were expanded Monday.

Evacuations were ordered for the Deer Lodge Park area, in addition to the evacuation of the entire area south of Ranchero Road from Santa Fe Avenue to Lake Arrowhead Road in Hesperia.

The Summit Valley area east of Cedar Springs Dam was also evacuated, as well as areas around Highway 138 and Old Mill Road, and around Highway 138 and State Route 173.

Schools in the Apple Valley Unified Shcool District and Hesperia Unified School District were to be closed on Tuesday due to air quality concerns.

The blaze broke out Sunday and has blackened more than 6,300 acres north of San Bernardino. It was 5 percent contained as of Monday afternoon, and no homes had been lost to the blaze, San Bernardino National Forest officials said.

The Pilot fire also caused air quality problems throughout the region, prompting a smoke advisory. Air quality was considered unhealthy for the Central San Bernardino Mountains, including the Arrowhead Highlands and Running Springs, according to an Air Quality Management District map.

Voluntary evacuations were ordered for an area east of Lake Arrowhead Country Club that includes Golf Course Road east to North Bay Road, and Penninsula Drive north to Highway 173.

The entire area north of Lake Arrowhead was also under a voluntary evacuation, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said.

Air tankers continued their assault on the fire, painting the dry brush with a pink, powdered fire retardant.

"We got a new paint job five times over now, so it's very pink," resident Tom Flury said. "The cars are pink, I've been pink."

Flury and his parents and grandparents all have homes next to each other. He chose not to evacuate and watched the Pilot Fire come dangerously close.

"They've saved the house on two or three different occasions – I mean saved the house. I mean, the fire was on it."

Many residents on Sunday grabbed what they could, including their animals, and headed to nearby evacuation centers.

Some have returned, not knowing if their homes were still standing and grateful that they were.

"It was scary, very scary," Melissa Perez said.

Hundreds of San Bernardino County Firefighters were battling the blaze, which began Sunday.

California is in its fifth straight year of drought, leaving hillsides and other areas covered in brush primed for wildfires. Firefighters said the state could be facing one of its worst fire seasons on record.

A Red Cross evacuation center was set up at Ranchero Middle School at 17607 Ranchero Rd. Large animals could be taken to the San Bernardino Fairgrounds at 14800 7th St. in Victorville.

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