Thousands evacuated as wind whips California fire
Saturday, October 25, 2003
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -- With ash and smoke turning day into night, a wind-driven wildfire closed in on several Southern California communities Friday, destroying four houses and forcing firefighters to make their stand in back yards.
Thousands of people were evacuated and two major freeways were closed.
"We got out what was important, and what's most important is us," said Christiane Elin, 30, who with her husband was among hundreds of people gathered at a high school serving as an evacuation center.
More than 4,000 acres have burned since the fire started Tuesday near the San Bernardino National Forest.
Ash covered cars a half-mile from the fire, and billowing clouds of black smoke hung above the heavily developed area. The California Highway Patrol closed Interstate 210 and I-15, the main route from Southern California to Las Vegas.
"It looks like nighttime here," said Kelly Bocanegra, an elementary school teacher.
Firefighters supported by water-dropping aircraft battled flames in back yards in Rancho Cucamonga, where four houses was destroyed on Friday.
The fire also reached the outskirts of Fontana and Rialto, in the sprawling suburbs about 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
The flames were fanned by hot, dry desert winds of 25 mph and higher, and temperatures were expected to reach the high 90s later in the day. The fire was only 17 percent contained by late morning.
Gov. Gray Davis ordered all available firefighting resources to be made available.
In the high school parking lot, Kevin Walk waited with his wife, 7-year-old daughter and dog, hoping they could return home soon. They had awoken before daybreak to see flames approaching their housing development.
"The wind shifted and they said, 'You've got to go,"' Walk said. The family grabbed photos, documents and their goldfish before leaving.
Dan Williams, 49, said when he was ordered to evacuate at 7 a.m., the fire was 60 yards from his home and the sky was black with smoke.
"So I grabbed what was most important, my family, the animals and a few belongings. The rest of it? That's what insurance is for I guess," he said.
The fire, which authorities blamed on arson, was one of several that swept through Southern California this week.
Among them was a blaze at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, 50 miles north of San Diego, where 4,110-acre brush fire was as close as a mile from scattered ranches and homes.