STATE: Local crews help fight Eastern Sierra blaze

STATE: Local crews help fight Eastern Sierra blaze

19 March 2011

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USA — Firefighters from Riverside and San Bernardino counties were helping battle an 850-acre wildfire Saturday that destroyed 19 homes in the Eastern Sierra community of Big Pine.

Crews and more than 15 engines from CalFire, San Bernardino County Fire Department and the San Bernardino National Forest traveled north Friday night to help battle the blaze that took out some historic 1800s homes, injured a sheriff’s deputy and closed Highway 395, said Julie Hutchinson, a CalFire battalion chief.

“It’s a mess. There was snow and rain last night, the mountains all around are white, and there’s this moonscape through this community where the fire ran,” she said.

Fueled by 50 mph winds, the fire took out eight mobile homes and 11 houses, plus outbuildings, she said. At one point, the fire jumped the highway, a busy road for travelers and skiers headed to Mammoth.

Big Pine, a town of about 1,300, is 15 miles south of Bishop, in the Owens Valley.

The fire originally was estimated at 2,000 acres as it zig-zagged across the rural landscape, but the size was revised once daylight hit, Hutchinson said.

By Saturday afternoon, the fire was 45 percent contained. Winds had died down, it was raining lightly and Highway 395 was reopened. The fire is expected to be fully contained today, and local fire crews will return Monday, she said.

Most of the 300 people who were evacuated from west of the highway have been allowed back into their homes. About 100 structures remain threatened and evacuations remained in effect for the area west of West Street. The Red Cross set up shelters at the Big Pine school and in the gym of the Big Pine Indian reservation.

Building officials from San Bernardino County were on-scene to assess damage to structures, said Sue Hood, a dispatch supervisor for San Bernardino County Fire.

The cause of the fire, which started at 3:15 p.m. Friday, was under investigation.

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