Firefighters gain ground on California wildfire

A helicopter drops fire retardant on a burning hillside in Keenbrook, California on Aug 18, 2016.
A helicopter drops fire retardant on a burning hillside in Keenbrook, California on Aug 18, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

CALIFORNIA (Reuters) - Firefighters were gaining ground on Friday (Aug 19) against a wildfire burning in a Southern California mountain pass that has forced some 80,000 residents to flee their homes and has consumed dozens of structures.

The Blue Cut fire, named for a narrow gorge near its origin in the Cajon Pass about 120 km north-east of Los Angeles, has blackened 14,556ha of drought-parched heavy brush and chaparral after breaking out on Tuesday.

Officials said firefighters were able to carve containment lines around 22 per cent of the blaze as of Thursday night - up from just four per cent earlier in the day - despite dry, hot and windy weather conditions and treacherous terrain.

But the intensely burning blaze, producing cyclone-like whirls of flame, continued to threaten some 34,500 homes and other structures in communities including the ski resort town of Wrightwood, fire officials said.

While many residents opted to stay put for the time being, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office said deputies arrested three people suspected of attempting to loot from the abandoned homes of evacuees.

Transit authorities on Thursday reopened Interstate 15, the primary traffic route between greater Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Nevada, after it was closed for two days by the fast-moving blaze.

The Blue Cut fire is one of nearly 30 major blazes reported to have scorched some 530 square miles in eight Western states this week, in the midst of a wildfire season stoked by prolonged drought and unusually hot weather, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.