Six homes burn in windy San Bernardino
LOS ANGELES — Fierce winds that whipped up early Thursday sparked new fires across Southern California, including a destructive blaze that tore into neighborhoods in north San Bernardino, consuming homes and forcing residents to evacuate before dawn.
The Hillside fire erupted about 1:40 a.m. above San Bernardino near Highway 18 at Lower Waterman Canyon and took off, quickly burning downhill into neighborhoods as authorities rushed to awaken and evacuate residents. The blaze has consumed 200 acres and has burned six homes, San Bernardino County Firefighter Chris Prater said.
The fast-moving fire prompted mandatory evacuation orders for about 500 homes, affecting roughly 1,300 residents. One firefighter was hospitalized for smoke inhalation, but no other injures were reported.
As police and firefighters were evacuating neighborhoods early Thursday, some residents refused to leave their homes against officials’ advice.
“Stay vigilant, please. You don’t see the wind blowing really hard right now where we’re at, but you go up on the hills and it’s very erratic,” said Kathleen Opliger, incident commander for the Fire Department. “The fire has moved so fast ... that if folks don’t evacuate when we ask them to, it’ll be very difficult to get them out when the fire is moving toward homes.”
By late morning firefighters had knocked down active flames burning in the area and had begun to gain control of the blaze. The cause of the fire, which is 1% contained, is under investigation. However, fire officials said they’ve determined there are no power lines in the area where they believe the blaze erupted.
Video footage from the scene taken early Thursday showed waves of embers flying onto residential streets, igniting palm trees and setting homes ablaze. Firefighters doused water on two homes on Saturn Court as they burned in the early morning hours, but they appeared to sustain significant damage.
Tony Marzullo, 59, said screams from his neighbor across the street jolted him awake about 2 a.m. “Fire! Fire!” she yelled. Outside, the hillsides were burning, winds were gusting and yards were catching fire as embers landed on the ground. Marzullo, his son and sonin-law immediately got to work. They helped neighbors out of their homes and drove cars sitting in driveways to a nearby church after people had fled. They grabbed garden hoses and tried to douse whatever flames they could.
“Those winds were treacherous,” Marzullo said. “The winds here blow in every direction.”
The winds that sweep through San Bernardino are as familiar as the hillsides that are a backdrop for more than a dozen homes along Viento Way, named after the Spanish word for “wind.”