Blue Cut Fire in Southern California forces evacuation of 80,000 people

CAJON PASS, Calif., Aug. 17 (UPI) — A massive wildfire in Southern California has grown into a major blaze, authorities said Wednesday, and has triggered a state of emergency and forced evacuations of more than 80,000 people.

The Blue Cut Fire began early Tuesday in the San Bernardino National Forest and grew to more than 25,000 acres in about 24 hours. More than a thousand firefighters were working to contain the blaze but have so far found almost no success, officials said.

Cal Fire confirmed the fire had grown to 25,626 acres with 4 percent containment by Wednesday evening. Improved mapping of the fast-spreading fire corrected the original 30,000 estimate of Wednesday afternoon.

“It hit hard, it hit fast — it hit with an intensity that we haven’t seen before,” said San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig.

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Tuesday, the fire triggered limited evacuations and closed stretches of two major highways nearby.

By Wednesday, greater stretches of California Highway 138 and Interstate 15, the major route between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, were closed.

Parts of other roadways — including State Route 2, Highway 38 and Highway 395 — also have been closed.

Authorities expanded the mandatory evacuation zones. More than 82,000 residents in about 34,000 homes have been ordered to leave the area.

By Wednesday, more than 1,300 firefighters were battling the blaze, along with 152 engines, 18 crews, eight air tankers, two Very Large Air Tankers, and eight helicopters, including night-flying choppers.

There is no tally of destroyed homes and structures, but officials are bracing for a high count. Among the structures lost to the explosive fire is the historic Summit Inn along Route 66, a spot once a favorite of Elvis Presley‘s.

“There will be a lot of families that will come home to nothing,” Hartwig said.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in San Bernardino County.

Several agencies are assisting in the firefighting efforts, including the National Forest Service, Cal Fire and the California Highway Patrol. A National Type 1 Incident Management Team has also been requested.

Six firefighters became trapped by the flames Wednesday while trying to defend homes, officials also said.

“Firefighters were able to shelter in place within a nearby structure, but two firefighters sustained minor injuries. Both firefighters were transported to a local hospital where they were treated and released and are now back on the fire line defending structures,” officials said in a news release.

The Blue Cut Fire began around 11 a.m. Tuesday. The cause is still under investigation.

San Bernardino County Sheriff/Twitter

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