California fire threatens homes, closes interstate

LOS ANGELES Fri Sep 2, 2011 7:05pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A brush fire burning in a mountain pass outside Los Angeles on Friday forced authorities to evacuate residents from two communities and shut down a major interstate linking Southern California and Las Vegas.

The blaze broke out in a median strip of Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass and quickly spread to scrub brush on both sides of the highway, threatening homes in the community of Oak Hills, authorities said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage to structures, although dramatic television images showed the flames closing in on several large homes.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said mandatory evacuation orders were issued for Oak Hills as well as neighborhoods in the high desert community of Hesperia.

Dozens of firefighters, aided by water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, battled the fast-moving blaze, which poured thick black smoke into the air as it blackened foothills on both sides of Interstate 15.

The freeway, the main artery linking Southern California to Las Vegas and other points to the northeast, was jammed for miles in both directions with residents headed out of town for the long Labor Day weekend.

Several northbound lanes were later reopened as the fire burned away from the highway.

The blaze, which broke out at about 12:30 p.m. local time, had charred more than 500 acres by mid-afternoon and was still burning out of control.

Bachman said it was not immediately clear how many houses or people were evacuated in the communities, where many homes sit far apart on large tracts of land.

An evacuation shelter was set up by the Red Cross at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds.

(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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