California's first monster wildland blaze in a much-feared fire season is spreading rapidly through San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California.
The Lake Fire, burning 80 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, started Wednesday afternoon, raced through timberland Thursday, and by Friday morning had burned 11,000 acres -- about 17 square miles, equivalent to more than one-third the area of San Francisco.
About 1,200 firefighters have been deployed to corral the blaze, which is 10 percent contained. While water-dropping helicopters are aiding ground crews working in temperatures near 100 degrees, turbulent winds in the area have limited the use of larger fixed-wing air tankers.
Officials say about 150 structures are threatened, and 400 people have been evacuated from the fire zone.
One of those evacuated Thursday was a 74-year-old Orange County resident hiking by himself. From the Riverside Press-Enterprise:
About 10:30 a.m., the state Office of Emergency Services received a signal from Stanley Reese's SPOT device, which can transmit GPS coordinates to rescuers. The location was just east of the fire burning in the Jenks Lake area in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department said.
The helicopter crew found Reese, a 74-year-old Dana Point resident, uninjured in Dry Lake. He explained to deputies that he was on a three-day backpacking trip and had noticed the smoke from the fire on Wednesday but was not concerned because he was far from the smoke.
On Thursday morning, Reese noticed that the fire had grown and was heading in his direction. That's when he signaled for help. Reese was airlifted to safety and picked up by his family.
The Los Angeles Times quotes Forest Service officials as saying that in records going back 104 years, there's no report of fire in the timberland that's burning now. The Times adds:
This year, researchers with the U.S. Forest Service surveyed 4.2-million acres of trees in the Cleveland, San Bernardino, Angeles and Los Padres national forests and found that 2 million trees have died because of drought and the invasion of bark beetles. The tiny bark beetle thrives in dry conditions, chewing away at pines and making them brittle.
Fire crews are battling several other wildland blazes around the state. The biggest are:
- Saddle Fire: 1,509 acres, 95 percent contained. Burning near the hamlet of Hyampom in Trinity County, east of Redding.
- Sky Fire: 538 acres, 0 percent contained. Burning north of Oakhurst and south of the Highway 41 entrance to Yosemite National Park.
- Corrine Fire: 500 acres, 20 percent contained. Burning in the Sierra foothills northeast of Fresno.