Devastating Blue Cut Fire Destroys 96 Homes, Burns About 58 Square Miles

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The devastating Blue Cut Fire that has destroyed 96 homes and scorched nearly 58 square miles, or 37,000 acres, in San Bernardino County, authorities said Friday, the fourth day of the blaze.

A firefighting helicopter makes water drops to keep errant fires from approaching the train tracks near the 15 Freeway at Keenbrook in San Bernardino County. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A firefighting helicopter makes water drops to keep errant fires from approaching the train tracks near the 15 Freeway at Keenbrook in San Bernardino County. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Fire officials had previously said "a lot" of homes were destroyed by the blaze, which began in the Cajon Pass about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

At a Friday morning news conference, county Fire Department Chief Mark Hartwig announced that 96 single-family homes had been destroyed. Three others had significant damage, he said.

"We know that there are going to be people who come home to nothing," Hartwig said.

Most losses were in Swarthout Valley, West Cajon Valley, Oak Hills and south Phelan, Hartwig said.

Some 213 outbuildings were destroyed and "numerous" vehicles were lost.

No deaths have been reported, according to the chief.

Destroyed cars smolder after the Blue Cut Fire burned a small community near Wrightwood, on Aug. 17, 2016. (Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Destroyed cars smolder after the Blue Cut Fire burned a small community near Wrightwood, on Aug. 17, 2016. (Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Fire officials have repeatedly commented on the speed and seriousness of the Blue Cut Fire.

Hartwig recalled that firefighters had to sometimes shelter in place, alongside residents, while flames rapidly advanced, for some 18 to 20 hours.

"It moved with an intensity and a ferocity that veteran firefighters haven't seen before," the chief said.

The communities of Lytle Creek, Wrightwood and Phelan are still threatened Friday, authorities said.

County fire spokesman Eric Sherwin said firefighters have seen bigger fires, but never one that got so big, so fast.

"The devastation is everywhere," Sherwin said. "The fire has destroyed homes everywhere."

Meanwhile, more evacuation orders were being lifted Friday.

At 5:30 p.m., residents who live south of Phelan Road west of Green Road to Snowline Road were allowed to return. Several roads in the area were re-opened, the county Sheriff's Department announced.

At 1 p.m. , mandatory evacuation orders were lifted for residents west of Baldy Mesa Road to Wilson Ranch Road south of Phelan Road to Mission Street. Eastbound state Route 138 from the 15 Freeway reopened as well.

On Thursday, evacuations were lifted for East Oak Hills, West Oak Hills and South Hesperia.

Fire officials emphasized how important it is that residents obey mandatory evacuation orders, saying that some people had been extracted from neighborhoods aboard fire engines, hampering firefighting efforts.

An estimated 82,640 people were forced to leave their homes, according to the federal InciWeb page for the fire.

A small wild animal, possibly a fox or a coyote pup, tries to escape the burning embers left by the Blue Cut Fire after it burned through a rural community near Wrightwood on Aug. 17, 2016. (Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

A small wild animal, possibly a fox or a coyote pup, tries to escape the burning embers left by the Blue Cut Fire after it burned through a rural community near Wrightwood on Aug. 17, 2016. (Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday, three people were arrested on suspicion of looting in the Swarthout Canyon area. The Sheriff's Department said it was prepared to detain anyone suspected of looting.

The 15 Freeway, which was completely shut down Wednesday morning, was reopened to traffic in both directions on Thursday morning, Caltrans said.

Nearly 1,600 fire personnel remain battling the blaze, which was 40 percent contained as of Friday evening.

Red flag conditions were expected to remain in effect for the area until 9 p.m.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

Inland Empire United Way has started a fund to help victims of the fire.