PICTURES: California wildfire rages unchecked


PICTURES: California wildfire rages unchecked
Firefighters battle the Blue Cut fire in Phelan, California U.S., August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

A Southern California wildfire raged virtually unchecked in thick brush on Wednesday after destroying dozens of houses near a highway corridor between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and forcing as many as 80,000 residents to flee their homes, officials said.

Firefighters battle the Blue Cut fire in Phelan, California U.S., August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Firefighters battle the Blue Cut fire in Phelan, California U.S., August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The so-called Blue Cut Fire ignited on Tuesday in the mountainous Cajon Pass and has exploded to cover 25,626 acres (10,370 hectares). Firefighters had carved containment lines around only four percent of the blaze by Wednesday night, fire officials said.

A firefighting helicopter maneuvers around power lines and smoke to make a water drop during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
A firefighting helicopter maneuvers around power lines and smoke to make a water drop during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon

They described the blaze as unusually fierce, even for a year of intense wildfires in the U.S. West, where years of drought have placed a heavy burden on firefighting resources.

Firefighting helicopters maneuver around power lines and smoke to make a water drop during the Blue Cut fire in San Bernardino county near the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
Firefighting helicopters maneuver around power lines and smoke to make a water drop during the Blue Cut fire in San Bernardino county near the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon

“In my 40 years of fighting fire, I’ve never seen fire behavior so extreme as it was yesterday,” Michael Wakoski, the incident commander on the fire, told a news conference on Wednesday.

Melted glass bricks stand inside the wall of a burned structure during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
Melted glass bricks stand inside the wall of a burned structure during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon

As many as eight wildland fires were burning in California on Wednesday, three of them scorching thousands of acres as firefighters sought help from emergency responders from other states and the California National Guard.

A huge plume of smoke crosses over Interstate 15 during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
A huge plume of smoke crosses over Interstate 15 during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon

U.S. government forecasters have said Southern California faces a potential threat from major wildfires until December, given the dryness and warm weather.

Santa Ana winds, which sweep desert air to California’s coast while driving the fires, are due to kick up next month, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal-Fire) spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said by phone. September and October are often the peak of the state’s wildfire season.

A firefighting aircraft flies towards a huge plume of smoke over charred earth during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
A firefighting aircraft flies towards a huge plume of smoke over charred earth during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon

The Blue Cut Fire, named for a narrow gorge north of San Bernardino where it started, threatened the town of Wrightwood near a ski resort and other communities in a partly rural area, authorities said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

A cross stands near burned earth during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
A cross stands near burned earth during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon

Authorities said they were forced to close part of Interstate 15, which runs through the Cajon Pass between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area, and to order about 80,000 residents to evacuate.

Thick columns of smoke blocked out the sky above mountain peaks as the fire overran a number of properties, leaving behind barren lots with blackened appliances and vehicles stripped of nearly everything but metal.

Burned structures stand during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
Burned structures stand during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon

Louis Penna, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department, said in an email an official damage estimate was not available but that dozens of destroyed structures were clearly visible.

San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig told reporters: “There will be a lot of families that come home to nothing.”

Burned structures stand during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
Burned structures stand during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon

The Los Angeles Times reported hundreds of residents were staying in their houses, despite dire warnings from authorities.

Among them was Nico Santucci, who was standing sentry outside his home in Lytle Creek with his young son by his side.

A firefighting helicopter maneuvers around power lines and smoke to make a water drop during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon
A firefighting helicopter maneuvers around power lines and smoke to make a water drop during the Blue Cut fire at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T Fallon

“If the first house catches on fire here or the fire breaks this mountain here, then I’m gone, then we’re gone,” Santucci said.

About 600 miles (970 km) to the northwest, the so-called Clayton Fire was 40 percent contained after charring 4,000 acres in and around the community of Lower Lake and destroying 175 homes and businesses.

The Blue Cut fire burns near a residential area in Phelan, California U.S., August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
The Blue Cut fire burns near a residential area in Phelan, California U.S., August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

California had spent $164 million by Aug. 12 to combat wildfires this year, Cal-Fire’s Tolmachoff said, not including the Blue Cut or Clayton fires.

A firefighter sprays water while battling the Blue Cut fire in Phelan, California U.S., August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
A firefighter sprays water while battling the Blue Cut fire in Phelan, California U.S., August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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