Carmegeddon: North Fire burns across California Interstate, traps cars

(UPDATED at 7:52 a.m. PT, July 19, 2015)

North Fire trucks interstate 15
A semi truck and a car carrier burn on the North Fire, July 17, 2015. InciWeb photo.

There is not much change to report on the North Fire that burned across Interstate 15 in southern California Friday afternoon destroying 22 vehicles on the highway that became trapped by the fire.

The Incident Management Team is still calling it 3,500 acres, a figure that has not changed since four hours after the fire was reported Friday afternoon. Satellites have not detected any large heat sources in the last 36 hours and mandatory evacuations have been lifted for residents only.

The weather station nearby at Morman Rocks has measured 0.27 inch of rain since Saturday at noon.

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(UPDATED at 11:21 a.m. PT, July 18, 2015)

North Fire
North Fire July 17, 2015, InciWeb photo.

The North Fire that burned across Interstate 15 in southern California Friday afternoon is still out of control, but the fire behavior has been mitigated by a storm system that has moved into the area.

At 10 a.m. PT light rain was falling in the greater Los Angeles area. The storm brought five new fires ignited by lightning in the San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains. You can check the status of these new fires at an InciWeb page, which helpfully has a definition of “lightning” in case you don’t know what it is.

Scores of vehicles were trapped on the freeway Friday as drivers abandoned their cars and fled on foot. There were no reported deaths or injuries, but 22 vehicles, including two semi trucks, were destroyed and 10 were damaged.

As the fire spread further north into the community of Baldy Mesa, 3 homes, 8 outbuildings, and another 44 vehicles burned. Mandatory evacuations are in place for the Baldy Mesa area.

Interstate 15 was closed in both directions for hours on Friday until the fire died down and the abandoned vehicles were either retrieved by their drivers or towed away.

Fire spokespersons said five drones were seen over the fire and two actually gave chase to firefighting aircraft which had to jettison their loads and land. More information about the drones is at Fire Aviation.

Map of North Fire July 18, 2015
Map of North Fire July 18, 2015, USFS.

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(Originally published at 6:14 p.m. PT, July 17, 2015; Updated at 7:08 p.m. PT, July 17, 2015)

North Fire traffic
The North Fire, first reported at 2:33 p.m. on July 17, quickly spread across a heavily travelled Interstate highway in southern California burning vehicles that became trapped when drivers stopped, took their keys, and abandoned their cars. The resulting grid lock on Interstate 15 in Cajon Pass affected scores of vehicles. Twenty were were completely incinerated and another ten were damaged, since firefighters were unable to access the area with their trucks through the tangle of immovable cars.

At least two large trucks burned, a semi with a completely involved trailer and a car carrier that may lost its entire load of vehicles to the blaze.

At 5 p.m. it was 99 degrees in San Bernardino not far from the fire and the relative humidity was 15 percent. The wind was 15 mph. The weather is predicted to change on Saturday, with the humidity increasing to 70 percent, a temperature of 85, wind out of the south at 17 mph gusting to 26, and a 30 percent chance of rain.

Heel of the North Fire

One of the nearby U.S. Forest Service engines on initial attack ordered five air tankers soon after they got a good look at the fire. There was a report that later a total of 10 air tankers and four helicopters had been ordered.

KTLA, which is live-streaming video, reported at 6 p.m. PT that 3,500 acres, 15 homes and 20 vehicles have burned; 50 more structures are threatened. KTLA also reported  at 7:02 p.m. that in spite of the chaos with the trapped vehicles and drivers evacuating down the freeway, there were no injuries.

A Type 2 incident management team has been ordered.

According to Uriah Hernandez, a spokesperson for the San Bernardino National Forest, early in the fire there was a report of a drone in the area of the fire, but as of 7:25 p.m., that report has not been confirmed. Firefighting aircraft were grounded or had to stay out of the area for a short time.

DC-10 North Fire
A DC-10 air tanker drops retardant on the North Fire near Cajon Pass on Interstate 15 in Southern California, July 17, 2015. Screen grab from ABC7.

The video below was recorded before the semi truck and the car carrier caught fire.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

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