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Thousands Evacuated as California Wildfire Grows

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1471399456_california fire

Firefighters battle the fire in the Cajon Pass, north of San Bernardino on August 16.

Photographer: Will Lester/AP

San Bernardino, Calif. (AP) -- The Latest on wildfires burning in California (all times local):

8:45 p.m.

Fire officials say a wildfire racing through canyons east of Los Angeles has burned at least a dozen buildings, including some homes and an historic diner called the Summit Inn.

Eric Sherwin of the San Bernardino County Fire Department says the blaze that began in the Cajon (kuh-HOHN') Pass continues to race in several directions. It has topped ridges in the San Bernardino Mountains and is closing in on high desert communities on the other side.

The 15,000-acre blaze has prompted evacuation orders for about 34,500 homes and 82,000 people and includes the ski resort town of Wrightwood, scattered ranches and desert communities such as Phelan (FEE'-lan).

The fire is shooting flames 80 to 100 feet high. It has closed Interstate 15, the main route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, leaving people stranded for hours.

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7:25 p.m.

Fire crews have gained even more ground against on a Northern California wildfire that has destroyed 175 homes, businesses and other structures and charred nearly 7 square miles.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the fire in Lower Lake, about a two-hour drive from San Francisco, was 35 percent contained Tuesday.

In another sign of progress, fire officials lifted many of the evacuation orders in the town, allowing about 4,000 residents to return home earlier in the day.

Authorities on Monday arrested 40-year-old Damin Anthony Pashilk of Clearlake, California, on 17 counts of arson. Pashilk is suspected of sparking the blaze that exploded over the weekend. Officials say he is also suspected in several other fires over the past year in Lake County.

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6:30 p.m.

A fire official says more than 82,000 people have been told to evacuate from mountain communities threatened by a powerful wildfire in Southern California.

San Bernardino County fire spokesman Eric Sherwin says the evacuation orders were given to about 34,500 homes.

Sherwin says some structures have already burned, but it hasn't yet been determined whether any of them were homes.

The 14-square-mile fire near Cajon (kuh-HOHN') Pass has seen massive growth in the eight hours since it broke out on Tuesday morning.

Firefighters work to contain embers on the remains of a destroyed house in Lower Lake, California on August 15.
Firefighters work to contain embers on the remains of a destroyed house in Lower Lake, California on August 15.
Photographer: Gabrielle Lurie/AFP via Getty Images

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3:50 p.m.

A wildfire raging through drought-parched canyons near Cajon (kuh-HOHN') Pass in Southern California has forced the mandatory evacuation of thousands of people.

Authorities say the 8-square-mile fire is moving north toward the town of Wrightwood and shows no sign of slowing down.

About 4,500 people live in the mountain resort, which is now under evacuation orders.

The blaze 60 miles east of Los Angeles has shut down a section of Interstate 15, the main route between Southern California and Las Vegas.

It also burned what appear to be several ranch outbuildings and forced evacuations in and around Lytle Creek.

Meanwhile, evacuation orders in the Northern California town of Clearlake were lifted Tuesday, allowing 4,000 people to return home days after they were forced to flee by a blaze that destroyed 175 homes, businesses and other structures in neighboring Lower Lake, about 90 miles north of San Francisco

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2:45 p.m.

Corrections officials say the man suspected of sparking a massive Northern California wildfire once worked as an inmate firefighter while he served time on drug possession and firearms charges.

Corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters said Tuesday that 40-year-old Damin Anthony Pashilk of Clearlake was completing a five-year sentence when he was assigned to fight wildfires from April through July 2007.

Pashilk was arrested Monday on suspicion of starting the wildfire in Lower Lake, about a two hour drive from San Francisco. It has burned nearly 7 square miles while destroying 175 structures.

Burned residences, vehicles and a pool line a fire-ravaged neighborhood in Lower Lake, California, on August 16.
Burned residences, vehicles and a pool line a fire-ravaged neighborhood in Lower Lake, California, on August 16.
Photographer: Gabrielle Lurie/AFP via Getty Images

He was paroled in July 2007. He was imprisoned six more times for violating his parole, but did not work as a firefighter again before he finally left parole in 2011.

Waters says more than 1,700 inmates are currently fighting fires statewide, including 340 fighting the Lake County blaze.

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2:30 p.m.

A wildfire raging through drought-parched canyons near the Cajon (kuh-HOHN') Pass has now burned 3 square miles of brush and fire officials say it shows no sign of slowing down.

The blaze 60 miles east of Los Angeles has burned what appear to be several ranch outbuildings and forced evacuations in and around Lytle Creek.

The area contains several dozen large homes and horse ranches.

Huge lines of flame are snaking along ridges above the communities.

Officials with the San Bernardino National Forest say five years of drought coupled with dry, hot weather have turned the entire area into a tinder box.

The fire forced a freight train to make an emergency stop and has closed portions of Highway 138 and Interstate 15 — a major desert freeway and the main route to Las Vegas.

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1:15 p.m.

A wildfire in the mountainous Cajon (kuh-HOHN') Pass area of Southern California is burning at least one building, closed down two major roads and forced evacuations.

The fire erupted Tuesday and quickly grew to 1,500 acres.

A news helicopter shows a building burning in the dry canyon area 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Authorities have ordered evacuations for several dozen homes and ranches and closed

The fire also stopped a freight train and the crew had to flee.

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12:50 p.m.

A wildfire in the mountainous Cajon (kuh-HOHN') Pass area of Southern California has closed down two major roads and forced evacuations.

The fire erupted Tuesday and quickly grew to 1,500 acres. It's prompted evacuations for several dozen homes and ranches and closed portions of Highway 138 and Interstate 15 — a major desert freeway and the main route to Las Vegas.

It's also stopped a freight train and the crew had to flee.

The fire is raging in dry hills about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

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12:15 p.m.

A new, wind-driven wildfire is rapidly growing in the mountainous Cajon (kuh-HOHN) Pass area of Southern California near Interstate 15.

San Bernardino National Forest officials estimated Tuesday it has exploded to 1,000 acres in about 90 minutes.

The sparsely populated region is under red flag warnings for high fire danger due to gusty winds and low humidity levels.

Cajon Pass is about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. Interstate 15 is the main highway to Las Vegas.

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10:15 a.m.

A 10-day-old wildfire in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles is finally fully surrounded.

The U.S. Forest Service says the 12.6-square-mile blaze was 100 percent contained Tuesday.

Firefighters will patrol for any remaining hotspots for a few more days.

The fire burned between mountain communities near Lake Arrowhead and the high desert city of Hesperia to the north.

At its height the fire posed a threat to as many as 5,300 residences but ultimately no homes were lost.

The cause remains under investigation.

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7:50 a.m.

Highway 1 in central California has reopened after a daylong closure for removal of fire-weakened trees north of Big Sur.

The fire, which was started by an illegal campfire on July 22, has burned more than 118 square miles, destroyed 57 homes and led to the death of a man in a bulldozer accident. It is 60 percent contained, but continues to threaten more than 400 structures.

All California State Parks in the area — from Garrapata through Julia Pfeiffer Burns — are closed until further notice.

The Big Sur blaze is one of six large wildfires in the state.

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6:55 a.m.

Fire crews gained some significant ground on a massive Northern California wildfire that has destroyed 175 homes, businesses and other structures and charred nearly 7 square miles.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant says the fire in Lower Lake, about a two hour drive from San Francisco, was 20 percent Monday.

The progress came as authorities arrested 40-year-old Damin Anthony Pashilk of Clearlake, California, on 17 counts of arson Monday. Pashilk is suspected of sparking the blaze that exploded over the weekend. Officials say he is also suspected in several other fires over the past year in Lake County.

Roughly 1,600 firefighters are battling the blaze Tuesday through warm temperatures and light winds.

[Editor notes: Eds: Corrects dateline.]

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