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2,000-acre L.A. fire prompts evacuations, shuts down freeway & burns vehicles

Posted at 8:37 PM, Jul 17, 2015

A helicopter drops water on vehicles burning on the 15 Freeway during the North Fire on July 17, 2015. (Credit: KTLA)

The fire started about 2:30 p.m. off the freeway just north of State Route 138 (map), prompting the closure of all southbound and northbound lanes of the 15 Freeway soon after. Responding fire crews were stuck in traffic and CHP was urging drivers to avoid the area.

The North Fire was at 500 acres about 3:45 p.m., and firefighting aircraft were temporarily grounded due to drone activity, the San Bernardino County Fire Department stated on Twitter. Within an hour, it was 2,000 acres.

Several vehicles stopped on the freeway were burning, aerial video from Sky5 showed. It was not clear if anyone was injured, and firefighters arrived on the tarmac just before 4 p.m.

A DC-10 drop Phos-chek on the North Fire on July 17, 2015. (Credit: KTLA)

“Currently we have not only a multi-casaulty incident, but a large wildfire threatening structures,” Josh Wilkins with the county Fire Department aid.

Only two minor injuries were reported as of about 5:15 p.m., according to Melody Lardner of the San Bernardino National Forest.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Baldy Mesa area east of Sheep Creek Road, north and west of the 15 Freeway, and south of Phelan Road. The area consists of scattered homes and ranches.

Hundreds of crews were headed to structures that were threatened in Baldy Mesa, Oak Hills and Phelan areas, Wilkins said.

The blaze began as a vegetation fire and spread rapidly toward the Oak Hills area by 40 to 45 mph winds, according to Wilkins.

At least 10 vehicles had burned, Wilkins said shortly after 4 p.m. It was not clear how many people were injured, he said.

Smoke was towering above the North Fire in the Cajon Pass on July 17, 2015. (Credit: KTLA)

Some 70 to 80 vehicles were left on the freeway, some without keys, California Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Carapia. The agency was trying to get the vehicles out of the fire’s path, but officers were awaiting tow trucks from the Victorville area, Carapia said.

The fire was under unified command with San Bernardino County Fire Department, Cal Fire, and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, according to the multi-agency federal wildfire website InciWeb.

The blaze marks the second major wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest in a month. The Lake Fire, which has burned more than 31,000 acres, started June 17 south of Big Bear Lake.

The 15 Freeway is the main route from the Los Angeles basin to Las Vegas and is heavily traveled at Friday rush hour. The area burning is about 45 miles east-northeast of downtown Los Angeles in a pass that separates the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountain ranges.