Skip to main content

California’s Explosive Fires Aren’t Slowing Down

The state’s unusually aggressive wildfire forecast remains indefinitely grim.

By Madeleine Thomas


A firefighter battles the Blue Cut wildfire near Cajon Pass, California. (Photo: Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images)

A quick glance at California’s Fire Map, one might think most of the state is currently ablaze. As of Wednesday morning, eight different wildfires continue to burn up and down the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). More than 10,000 firefighters are on board battling the flames, which seemingly stretch across the entirety of the Golden State — from the Summit Fire in Humboldt County to the Blue Cut Fire underway in the San Bernardino Mountains.

The Blue Cut Fire began Tuesday morning as a small brush fire in Cajon Pass, between the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains about 1.5 hours northeast of Los Angeles. In just a day’s time, the fire has morphed into a searing inferno, the likes of which officials haven’t seen in decades.

Particularly aggressive flames have scorched 30,000 acres and counting. The fire is 0 percent contained, according to officials at CAL FIRE and the United States Forest Service. About 82,000 people have been evacuated from more than 35,000 homes in the area. Six firefighters were also entrapped by flames during evacuation efforts. There were no deaths, though two firefighters sustained minor injuries.

After flames from the Blue Cut Fire quickly consumed an area along Highway 138 yesterday, the U.S. Forest Service announced this morning that they would be bringing in a team of cadaver dogs to scour homes along the incinerated landscape for residents who couldn’t escape in time, the Los Angeles Timesreports.

Such aggressive wildfires are unusual this time of year and are typically seen more in the fall, according to the U.S. Fire Service. In parts of Cajon Pass, “firenados” have been spotted as the intensity of Blue Cut’s flames causes surrounding air to rotate upward, resulting in a fiery tornado. Across Southern California’s mountain ridges and desert slopes, strong wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour, scorching summer heat, and low humidity could continue fueling Blue Cut’s spread well into the evening.

“We are in red flag conditions,” Travis Mason, a spokesman with the San Bernardino National Forest Service, told the New York Times. “I believe the acreage of fire will grow over the course of time.”

California’s wildfire forecast remains indefinitely grim given the “stunningly extreme weather” hitting parts of the state. “Even if rainfall amounts don’t change in the future, drought and wildfire severity likely will because warmer temperatures are more efficient at evaporating what little moisture does fall,” Eric Holthauswrote in Pacific Standard last month of the Sand Fire in Santa Clarita that swept more than 40,000 acres. “That, according to scientists, means California’s risk of a mega-drought — spanning decades or more — is, or will be soon, the highest it’s been in millennia.”

Five years of drought has turned places like Cajon Pass into tinderboxes, covered in combustible, dead brush that, in some regions, hasn’t burned for decades. As many as 66 million dead trees litter the state — the victims of drought and the invasive bark beetle — up from 3.3 million just two years ago. Talk about kindling of epic proportions.