Fire near Castaic closes 5 Freeway amid triple-digit heat

A wildfire near Castaic quickly erupted Wednesday, prompting mandatory evacuations and closing all lanes of Highway 5 as Southern California sweltered in triple-digit temperatures.

The highway fire, which was first reported just after noon along the highway near Lake Hughes Road, had grown to 4,625 acres and was 0% contained, department officials said. LA County Fire during a press conference Wednesday night.

About 250 county firefighters were assigned to the blaze along with 115 U.S. Forest Service firefighters, eight air tankers and seven helicopters, said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Craig Little.

The 5 remained closed in both directions, said Lauren Wonder, spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation for District 7. Northbound traffic was diverted onto Lake Hughes Road and southbound traffic onto Vista Del Lago Road.

Drivers who need to pass through the area should take Highway 14 through Antelope Valley, Wonder said. Other alternate routes include Route 126 through Ventura County to Highway 101.

No structures were threatened Wednesday night, LA County Fire Captain Sheila Kelliher said.

The intense blaze spurred evacuations as crews faced hot, dry and windy conditions on the first day of what is expected to be a week-long brutal heat wave.

On Wednesday evening, evacuations south of Northlake Hills Elementary School were lifted, according to the LA County Sheriff’s Department. Evacuation orders remained in place north of the school, south of the Templin Freeway – including the Paradise Ranch Estates mobile home park – east of 5 and west of Castaic Lagoon.

A huge cloud of smoke rises above mountain peaks as vehicles sit in traffic on a highway in the foreground

The Route Fire erupted Wednesday in dry vegetation along Highway 5 near Castaic.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Northlake Hills Elementary School, located between 5 and Ridge Route Road, was evacuated earlier Wednesday; the sheriff’s department said all staff and students at Northlake Hills are safe. In a message posted on Twitter, the school principal said the campus would be closed on Thursday.

Between 100 and 200 homes have been evacuated so far, said Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Barclay.

Eight firefighters, six of whom were taken to hospital, suffered mild to moderate heat-related injuries, Little said.

The blaze was fueled by fuels parched by years of drought, he said.

Temperatures in the region reached nearly 110 degrees at noon with 12% humidity, according to the National Weather Service.

Footage from KTLA-TV Channel 5 showed flames on both sides of the southbound lanes with smoke billowing from the dry, rolling hills. The southbound and northbound lanes are separated by a large hill.

A large tanker could be seen dropping fire retardant along the line of fire.

About two hours after the Road Fire started, a fast-moving fire was reported near the US-Mexico border in eastern San Diego County.

Wednesday evening, the fire had grown on over 1,600 acresdestroyed at least four structures, including at least one house, and threatened others.

No injuries were reported, although Cal Fire San Diego Captain Thomas Shoots said there were “several close calls” as residents rushed to evacuate their homes.

“We received several 911 calls from people unable to evacuate” because their homes were surrounded by fire, Shoots said.

More than 200 firefighters were battling the blaze as of 5:30 p.m., and “many more” were on the way, Shoots said. Six tanker planes, seven helicopters and several fixed-wing aircraft had been deployed, but none of the aircraft were equipped for night flying.

“We requested every wild terrain engine from Cal Fire in San Diego County,” Shoots said.

The fire led authorities to close the US-Mexico border crossing at Tecate, and State Route 94 was closed essentially from Campo to Dulzura. By dusk, none of the fires were contained as it continued to rage, heading east.

San Diego Union-Tribune writer Alex Riggins contributed to this report.

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