Desert Homes Threatened by Enormous California Wildfire

September 22, 2020 Updated: September 22, 2020

JUNIPER HILLS, Calif.—An enormous wildfire that churned through mountains northeast of Los Angeles and into the Mojave Desert was still threatening homes on Sept. 21, but officials said calmer winds could help crews corral the flames.

At 165 square miles, the Bobcat Fire is one of the largest ever in Los Angeles County, and it has burned for more than two weeks. It’s just 15 percent contained.

Evacuation orders and warnings are in place for thousands of residents in foothill and desert communities, where semi-rural homes and a popular nature sanctuary have burned. No injuries have been reported.

Erratic winds that drove flames into the community of Juniper Hills over the weekend have died down, said U.S. Forest Service fire spokesman Larry Smith.

“It’s slightly cooler too, so hopefully that will be a help to firefighters,” Smith said.

Officials said it could be days before teams determine the scope of destruction in the area about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Firefighters fought back against another flareup near Mount Wilson, which overlooks greater Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains and has a historic observatory founded more than a century ago and numerous broadcast antennas serving Southern California.

The Bobcat Fire started Sept. 6 and has doubled in size over the last week as it ripped through forested areas that hadn’t burned in decades. The cause is under investigation.

The wildfire also destroyed the nature center at Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area, a geological wonder that attracts some 130,000 visitors per year. A wildlife sanctuary on the property was undamaged, and staff and animals had been evacuated days earlier.

Nearly 19,000 firefighters in California are fighting more than two dozen major wildfires. At least 7,900 wildfires have burned more than 6,000 square miles (15,500 square kilometers) in the state this year, including many since a mid-August barrage of dry lightning ignited parched vegetation.

Officials were investigating the death of a firefighter at another Southern California wildfire that erupted earlier this month from a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used by a couple to reveal their baby’s gender.

The death occurred Sept. 17 in San Bernardino National Forest as crews battled the El Dorado Fire about 75 miles east of Los Angeles, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement. That blaze is 59 percent contained.

In Wyoming, officials warned that gusty winds on Sept. 21 could cause more growth of a wildfire burning toward cabins and an important water supply reservoir that’s a major source of water for the state’s capital city, Cheyenne. The fire in the Medicine Bow National Forest is burning in heavily forested, rugged terrain that would usually be busy now with hunters at the start of elk hunting season.

And in Colorado, more evacuations were ordered on Sept. 20 as winds caused the state’s largest wildfire to grow. Firefighters had to temporarily retreat from the massive Cameron Peak Fire near Red Feather Lakes. Flames later spread into flatter ground, which gave crews a better chance to battle the blaze, fire managers said.

More than 9,000 firefighters continue to battle 27 large wildfires across Oregon and Washington, where thousands of residences have been destroyed, the Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service said.

By Christopher Weber