A driver traveling the wrong way on a divided desert highway east of Mojave struck another car shortly after sunrise Wednesday, resulting in the fiery death of five people.
The cars immediately burst into flames, killing the errant motorist as well as the driver and three passengers in the other vehicle, said California Highway Patrol Officer Bobbi Record.
The fire burned so intensely that authorities on the scene could not identify the dead or even the make of the two cars.
Minutes before the 5:58 a.m. collision in the eastbound lanes of California 58 in eastern Kern County, at least one other driver called 911 to alert authorities of the wayward motorist, who was traveling west.
The highway has two lanes running in each direction, separated at that point by a wide median of brush and dirt.
Record said there are dirt road turnoffs to isolated residences and some paved turning strips cross the median, but authorities did not know how the driver got on the wrong side. There were no skid marks.
The crash occurred in a 65-mph zone on a straight stretch six miles east of the dusty desert way stop of Mojave. The eastbound lanes were closed for much of the day.
The highway is used by Edwards Air Force Base workers and truckers, a couple of whom witnessed the collision. Record said they stopped and tried unsuccessfully to smother the flames with fire extinguishers.
Crashes along that part of the highway generally involve solo drivers who fall asleep and veer off the shoulder, Record said.
But in 1993, there were two head-on crashes, both involving drunk drivers going the wrong way. Three people died in one accident, five in the other.
Farther to the east, near Boron, another head-on collision on California 58 claimed the lives of two people earlier this year.
Busy Interstate 15, which cuts through the desert between Las Vegas and Southern California, has been the site of a number of multiple-fatality accidents. In June 1999 seven people were killed when a car fishtailed across the median and hit a van near the Nevada border.