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Forest blaze threatens homes near Cajon Pass

The fire is centered in the Lytle Creek area east of Mount Baldy. Evacuations are ordered.

October 04, 2009|Garrett Therolf

A fast-moving fire broke out Saturday afternoon in the San Bernardino Mountains, scorching more than 1,500 acres, destroying three houses and threatening 400 other structures, authorities said.

The blaze began about 2 p.m in the Lytle Creek area east of Mt. Baldy and west of the Cajon Pass. It spread rapidly northward, threatening ranches and truck farms, among other properties, said John Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

More than 500 firefighters from the Forest Service and San Bernardino were deployed in an uphill effort to contain the flames. By nightfall, the fire was only 5% contained, Miller said.

Frustrating firefighters' efforts were wind gusts of up to 45 mph that were expected to strengthen overnight and extremely difficult terrain covered with chaparral and scattered timber.

"Whenever there is wind, there's trouble," Miller said.

Despite the winds, firefighters used four helicopters and nine air tankers to dump water on the fire. On the ground were 57 engines, four bulldozers and a hand crew. One firefighter suffered heat-related injuries, but the extent of his injuries was not clear, Miller said.

The three destroyed houses were in Swarthout Canyon, one of the areas where officials used reverse 911 calls and door-to-door visits to enforce a mandatory evacuation.

Also under evacuation orders were Applewhite, Happy Jack and areas east of Lytle Creek, including Mountain Lakes RV Park. People along California 138 between Interstate 15 and Hess Road were also asked to leave.

One of the population centers in the area, Wrightwood, was not immediately threatened.

"We're not sure what exactly will be burned," San Bernardino Fire Department spokesman Tim Tate said late Saturday.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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