More than 82,000 people flee Southern California wildfire

LOS ANGELES (TIP): A new wildfire spread on August 16 at a staggering pace in every direction through drought parched canyons east of Los Angeles, growing to 14 square miles in a matter of hours and forcing the evacuation of more than 82,000 people from mountain communities.

The blaze in Cajon Pass caused serious problems for a swath of mountain communities. About 82,500 people from some 34,500 homes were under mandatory evacuation orders, San Bernardino County fire spokesman Eric Sherwin said. Some structures had already burned but it wasn’t yet clear whether they were homes.

Evacuated areas included the ski-resort town of Wrightwood, where some 4,500 people live.

The flames also forced the shutdown of a section of Interstate 15, the main highway between Southern California and Las Vegas.

As that fire surged, a major blaze north of San Francisco was fading and some 4,000 people in the town of Clearlake were allowed to return home.

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Their relief, however, was tempered with anger at a man who authorities believe set the blaze that wiped out several blocks of a small town over the weekend along with 16 smaller fires dating back to last summer.

The wildfires were the latest in a weekslong stretch of heat- and drought-driven fires across California that raged well before the official start of wildfire season in early autumn. Blue Mountain Farms, a horse ranch in Phelan, was in the path of the fire about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, just as it was for another fire in the area a year ago.

“Breathing smoke again, just like last year,” Shannon Anderson, a partner in the ranch, said as she panted into the telephone. “It’s raining ash.”

Ranch hands used hoses to wet down fences and anything else that could burn.

Six firefighters protecting homes were briefly trapped by flames and in serious danger before they took shelter in a safe structure, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said in a statement. (AP)

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