In Southern California, an out-of-control wildfire that ignited Tuesday in a mountain pass east of Los Angeles has forced mass evacuations and destroyed an untold number of homes and businesses.
The Bluecut Fire is just the latest inferno to plague the historically dry state. In recent days, fast-moving wildfires have raced into mountain towns and even whole cities, blackening more than 30,000 acres and destroying hundreds of homes and structures.
What sets the Bluecut Fire apart is not its explosive growth — it’s the sheer number of people under mandatory evacuation orders. Initial estimates from the U.S. Forest Service put the number above 80,000. There are believed to be more than 34,000 homes in its direct path.
Complicating the evacuation efforts even further, one of the region’s most important east-west routes, Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass, is closed indefinitely because of the fire. It’s not clear whether some people were unable to leave the area that is under threat. But fire officials say several firefighters had to shelter in place while trying to save a home as the fire raced through a neighborhood. Two were treated for minor injuries, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Meanwhile, shelters were being hastily set up in the region, as sheriff’s deputies from San Bernardino County went door to door ordering people to pack up and flee their neighborhoods.
“This fire is still raging out of control,” Tracy Martinez, a public information officer for the San Bernardino County Fire Dept., told the Times, saying it is unknown how many structures have been lost.
Usually it takes hours, sometimes days, for crews to get in and fully assess the scope of the damage of major wildfires like this. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in the county to free up state funds and other aid.
It’s the governor’s third such declaration in just over 24 hours. The others covered the Chimney Fire that has burned 6,900 acres and destroyed an estimated 40 homes near San Luis Obispo, and the 4,000-acre Clayton Fire in Northern California where authorities arrested a suspected arsonist in connection with the blaze late Monday.