Within hours, towering, fast- moving flames had ravaged pine forests near the California ski town of Wrightwood but only half of its more than 4,500
residents had heeded mandatory evacuation orders. Officials say it was another example of a disturbing trend in the state as infernos speed through drought-starved vegetation during what could be California’s most hazardous fire season on record.
Instead of heading for safety, many homeowners are staying put and dialing 911 for help, US Forest Service spokesman John Miller said. “We have seen that throughout the state this year,” said Miller, who is assigned to San Bernardino National Forest.
Crews, however, aren’t always able to reach those who stay behind.
Some say wildfires have now become a part of living in the wildlands. Kim Boyle, who has experienced a half-dozen wildfires during her decade in Wrightwood, said she would evacuate if she saw a fire actually burning in town.
“But it’d have to be closer for me, and I think that’s true for a lot of folks around here because they’ve been through this so many times,” she said.
The fire 60 miles east of Los Angeles cast an ominous gray-and-orange haze over the picturesque town at an elevation of 6,000 feet that’s known for its 1930s cabins.
The blaze began Tuesday in the Cajon Pass region in hot, gusty conditions and swallowed an undetermined number of homes as it scorched nearly 50 square miles in mountain and desert areas.
Air tankers bombarded rugged slopes with fire retardant yesterday and a squadron of helicopters dropped load after load of water.
On the ground, firefighters and bulldozers worked to protect Wrightwood and other areas high in the San Gabriel Mountains.
More than 34,000 homes and some 82,000 residents were under evacuation orders at one point.
No fire-related deaths have been reported so far in that blaze, but bodies have been found during other fires that prompted mandatory evacuations.
In June, authorities found the burned remains of a man and woman who were caretakers of property in an area where an evacuation order had been issued near Potrero, about 45 miles east of San Diego.