Terrified motorists abandon cars, trucks as they flee California fire

Los Angeles county firefighters battling a brush fire in Wrightwood, California, on Friday. The flames spilled onto a busy highway linking Los Angeles and Las Vegas, destroying several dozen cars and trucks abandoned by their fleeing owners. Televisi
Los Angeles county firefighters battling a brush fire in Wrightwood, California, on Friday. The flames spilled onto a busy highway linking Los Angeles and Las Vegas, destroying several dozen cars and trucks abandoned by their fleeing owners. Television footage showed flames chewing through cars, an 18-wheel truck and even a boat.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • Crews in southern California yesterday continued to battle a brush fire that at one point spilled onto a busy highway and triggered scenes of panic among terrified motorists.

The flames burned through several dozen cars and trucks that were abandoned by their fleeing owners last Friday on the busy Interstate 15 (I-15) highway leading from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

Nearly 800 firefighters contin-ued to fight the blaze but rain yesterday helped to douse the flames and the multi-lane highway was reopened.

The fire burned or destroyed 44 vehicles and at least four homes, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Local media reported dramatic accounts of people getting out of their cars, with fire burning high on both sides of the highway, and not knowing which way to run for safety.

Television footage showed flames chewing through cars, an 18-wheel truck and even a boat, and billowing thick black smoke.

SUDDEN DANGER

I told my kids, 'Get your stuff'. We got our stuff. We started walking up the hill... I was telling people, 'You'd better come out'. All of a sudden, it just came on us.

DRIVER ARMANDO AGUILAR, who stopped on the Interstate 15 highway, where flames suddenly shot up

Driver Armando Aguilar told KTLA television he had stopped on the highway because of the fire and everything seemed fine until the flames shot up.

"I told my kids, 'Get your stuff'. We got our stuff," said Mr Aguilar, adding that they started walking up a hill beside the highway that led away from it.

"I was telling people, 'You'd better come out'. All of a sudden, it just came on us," he said of the fire.

Wildfires are a fact of life in southern California, but have been exacerbated by tinder-dry conditions as the western US state is gripped by a fourth year of record drought.

The I-15 is the main highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in neighbouring Nevada, and is extremely busy on weekends as residents of Los Angeles head to and from the gambling and party haven.

The fire was threatening more than 700 houses and other structures in an area of San Bernardino county known as Baldy Mesa.

So far, the blaze has charred 1,400ha of land.

There were no reports of injuries or casualties.

After a separate fire in Angeles National Forest, crews evacuated hundreds of people, including children, from campsites.

The San Bernardino County Fire Department said on Twitter that 90 girl scouts were evacuated from a nearby campsite.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Terrified motorists abandon cars, trucks as they flee California fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe