A brush fire that started near Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass north of Highway 138 ripped through cars trapped on the freeway — forcing motorists to run for their lives — and destroyed at least four structures Friday afternoon, July 17.
As of 8 p.m. the fire was reported at 3,500 acres. No injuries were reported.
The freeway was expected to be impacted for possibly the entire night, snarling weekend traffic for motorists headed to and from Las Vegas.
Late Friday, officials opened up three northbound lanes on the 15, but some remained closed and traffic was crawling through the pass.
Motorists frustrated by the slow northbound traffic through the Cajon Pass took a break at the Chevron mini market or McDonald’s on Wagon Train Road off Highway 138. Among them was a family of five headed home to Arkansas.
In looking for a detour, they had trouble when their navigation system sent them down a dirt road.
“They took us through what looked like the dadgum Grand Canyon,” said Donna Hastings, 46.
Chris Cooper’s son Aidan, 7, “was pointing out every helicopter and airplane.”
“He thought it was a blast,” said Cooper, 31.
San Bernardino County Fire Department officials at 5:30 p.m. confirmed that five homes were burning and 50 were immediately threatened.
U.S. Forest Service officials said the fire destroyed 20 vehicles, including more than one big rig, and damaged 10 cars when it jumped the freeway about 3:45 p.m.
Throughout the afternoon, cars on Interstate 15 and homes in the Baldy Mesa area were seen burning on live television.
As flames closed in, drivers and passengers ran from their vehicles.
“We were just running for our lives,” said Jacob Ramirez, 42, who was headed to Los Angeles from Arizona. He was towing a Rhino off-road vehicle with his Range Rover. The fire melted part of the Rhino.