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After Spectacular -- And Destructive -- Start, North Fire 60% Contained; I-15 Open

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North Fire Evacuation Area Map

The Inland Empire wildfire that made national news by attacking a major freeway, burning family cars and semi trucks while shutting down the main route between Southern California and Las Vegas at the height of the weekend getaway, is now 60 percent contained at 3,500 acres.  So far there are no reports of injuries.  

In addition to some two-dozen vehicles - including 2 big rigs - burned Friday while stalled in lanes of Interstate 15 south of California Highway 138, the North Fire destroyed 7 homes, 16 outbuildings, and 44 vehicles in the Cajon Pass-area community of Baldy Mesa.  Visitors, residents, and livestock were evacuated from Baldy Mesa.  Evacuations have been lifted for residents only - residents must bring proof of ID to checkpoint located at the intersection of Phelan and Baldy Mesa Roads.

At one point shortly after the blaze started, an unmanned aerial vehicle -- an unauthorized drone being operated from an unidentified location -- flew into the fire area, halting water-dropping air tanker operations for nearly a half-hour.  That prompted fire command authorities to release a statement saying, "Hobby drones, or (UAS) unmanned aircraft systems, pose a major safety threat to firefighting pilots and firefighters. When a hobby drone is flown into a fire area, incident commanders have no choice but to suspend air operations and ground aircraft until the drone is removed from the area." 

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Helicopter lands on I-15 during North Fire.

Calfire and U.S. Forest Service authorities say that as hobby drones have grown in popularity, they've seen an increase in drones interfering with firefighting operations. Authorities say a collision could easily result in major damage to aircraft, injuries to the pilot and crew on board as well as firefighters below, and worse, a midair collision.

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Tanker makes a retardant drop on the North Fire.

The North fire made quite a spectacular debut shortly after it was first reported early Friday afternoon.  Gusty winds through the Cajon Pass quickly whipped up the size of the fire alongside I-15, resulting in hundreds of vehicles being trapped for miles in stalled traffic both directions. National TV news networks aired live video of vehicles - including big rigs - burning on the freeway deck as gusty winds blew flames and embers across freeway lanes. Public safety scanner channels heard firefighters reporting structures burning amid the chaparral in the Cajon Pass area north of San Bernardino and south of Hesperia.
 

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North Fire burning near Interstate 15 Friday afternoon. As of Sunday, more than 800 personnel were still deployed to the North Fire containment effort, and also to control any possible flareups or new fires ignited by possible lightning strikes.

Occasional showers over the weekend have helped firefighters contain the blaze.  However, the forecast is for thunderstorms with the possibility of lightening that could ignite new blazes within and around the burn perimeter. More than 800 personnel remain deployed under North Fire Unified Command, comprising Forest Service, Calfire, San Bernardino County Fire, and San Bernardino County Sheriff personnel.

For official Unified Command information about the status of the North Fire, go to this link:  

http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4395/

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