A fast, wind-whipped wildfire swept over a crowded California freeway Friday, sending drivers running for safety and setting more than a dozen vehicles ablaze, officials said.
Twenty vehicles were destroyed and 10 others were damaged after the wildfire, dubbed the North Fire, jumped Interstate 15 in Cajon Pass in San Bernardino, officials with San Bernardino National Forest said. There were no injuries. Fire officials earlier reported that several motorists suffered smoke inhalation and burns injuries.
The interstate was packed with weekend getaway traffic when the blaze broke out near the freeway at around 2:30 p.m. It quickly swelled to hundreds of acres and strong winds sent the flames sweeping over the interstate, officials said.
The fire burned some vehicles and the flames then spread to others, including a tractor-trailer and a towed boat, and explosions were seen as some of the vehicles burned.
Firefighters used helicopters and to try and douse the fires from above, as firefighters on the ground tried to put out burning vehicles on the interstate.
By 6 p.m. the fire grown to 3,500 acres, the forest service said. The blaze burned five homes and threatened 50 others, officials said.
California is in the fourth year of a historic drought, exacerbating wildfire conditions. Hot, dry winds that gusted up to 40 miles per hour swept the blaze over the interstate so fast officials couldn’t stop traffic, said Liz Brown, spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“It’s so dry that its carrying that fire a lot faster, and put a little wind on it and this is what we have,” she said.
Ambulances and medical helicopters were sent to the the interstate. San Bernardino County Fire prepared for a mass casualty event. Interstate 15 is a major thoroughfare from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
A cause of the fire is not yet known.