California I-15 reopens through Cajon Pass; firefight continues with North Fire

This photo taken from a July 18 AP Video. A wildfire burned through 3,500 acres of the winding, mountainous Cajon Pass 55 miles northeast of Los Angeles Friday below the elevated lanes of Interstate 15, trapping hundreds of people amid a cauldron of smoke, flames and ash. San Bernardino County, California, July 18, 2015 | Photo from AP Video, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — All northbound lanes of Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino, California, have been reopened between Victorville and San Bernardino along with four southbound lanes, previously closed when a fast-moving wildfire that started Friday afternoon swept across the freeway, destroying 18 vehicles and two semitrailers.

The wildfire, named the North Fire, started at 2:23 p.m. PDT Friday. It has increased in size, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Incident Information System, but has moved away from the Interstate

See Friday story and video: UPDATED: Wildfire sweeps across Cajon Pass on Calif. I-15, shuts down freeway

Meanwhile another fire threatened campers and the mountain community of Wrightwood during the night before shifting directions.

About the North Fire

The North Fire destroyed 20 vehicles on the freeway, including two semitrailers, and damaged 10 more vehicles Friday.

According to the Associated Press, Saturday, it also burned three homes and 44 more vehicles in the community of Baldy Mesa.

Firefighters are eyeing forecasts to see if any help is forthcoming from the weather. The National Weather Service is forecasting a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms in the area Saturday, dropping to 40 percent on Sunday. Winds are expected to be gusting at up to 30 mph on Saturday.

NWCG reports the fire has burned 3,500 acres of land as of 7:14 a.m. PDT Saturday. Containment of the fire is down to 5 percent, from 10 percent Friday.

Mandatory evacuations remain in place in the region, including the community of Baldy Mesa among others.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Carol Underhill told the Associated Press that crews will focus on protecting some 700 homes in the area, Saturday, and that about 2,800 people were evacuated.

Fire is in unified command with San Bernardino County Fire, CalFire, and San Bernardino County Sheriff. A federal Type II Incident Management Team headed by Mike Wakowski has been ordered.  Type II teams typically work together for years, are highly structured with the ability to draw in more resources and are called in to address more complex fires. 

As of Saturday, 1,000 firefighters are involved in the fire suppression effort, along with 22 engines, two crews, four water tenders, one doer, one air attack plane, one lead plane, three helicopters and six fixed wing tankers including the DC-10 and an MD-87.

Flyer posted by the NWCG on the Incident Information  Web page for the North Fire, burning in San Bernardino, California, July 17-18, 2015 | Image courtesy of NWCG, St. George News
Flyer posted by the NWCG on the Incident Information Web page for the North Fire, burning in San Bernardino, California, July 17-18, 2015 | Image courtesy of NWCG, St. George News

Wildfires and drones don’t mix

Tanker operations were stymied for about 25 minutes due to a drone being flown in the area.  NWCG posted the following admonition regarding the use of drones over wildfires:

Fire Managers urge individuals and organizations that fly drones to avoid the wildfire areas to ensure the safety of firefighters and the effectiveness of wildfire suppression operations. Unauthorized drone flights over or near the wildfires could cause serious injury or death to firefighters on the ground. Unauthorized drones could also be involved in midair collisions with air-tankers, helicopters, and other aircraft engaged in fire suppression operations. This could decrease the effectiveness of fire suppression operations, allowing the fire to grow larger and potentially threaten lives, property, and valuable natural and cultural resources.

Firefighting aircraft typically fly at about the same, or lower, altitude than hobbyists or recreationists fly drones, often in smoky, windy, and turbulent conditions. Safety depends on knowing what other aircraft are operating in the airspace and knowing their altitude and direction of travel.

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.

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1 Comment

  • Knot July 18, 2015 at 11:47 am

    A few idiots with drones will cause more restrictions to all drones. I would like to think these people would have the common sense to not fly them into the areas like this, but sadly, common sense is not common any more. I read in another article that there were as many as 5 drones over this fire and that 3 of them were news media and 2 were probably private. This has been a problem in firefighting before in CA and one would think the news media would have already learned not to do this. I would hate to have a fire burning towards me and my family and suddenly the entire firefighting air fleet was grounded because of a drone.

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