Residents grabbed what they could and rushed from their homes overnight when a frightening brush fire fanned by strong winds swept through neighborhoods in San Bernardino.
Six homes have been damaged or destroyed in the 200-acre Hillside Fire, which began near Highway 18 and Lower Waterman Canyon. Whipped by wind, the fire burned downhill into several foothill neighborhoods.
Its rapid spread, aided by flying embers, left residents with little time.
"I walked outside. My brother was walking up the street and it was right here, I mean right behind us," said evacuee David Palacios. "We were like, 'We got to go.'"
Nearly 500 homes and about 1,300 residents were in the evacuation zone. Some residents were alerted by neighbors.
"He comes pounding on the door, trying to get us up," said resident Don Silver. "He knows we’re elderly and can hardly walk well. He came to wake us up and said there’s a fire. And when I looked out my patio door, that whole thing was on fire."
Two homes on Saturn Court were burned to the ground. On Viento Way, several homes were destroyed or damaged. Just blocks away, firefighters were able to protect a home that had been evacuated.
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"We took the kitties, ourselves and our cell phone, and that's it," said resident Susan Mercado. "The fire was coming through our yard. It was life or death.
"I don't know how they saved our house."
Mandatory evacuations were ordered for homes north of 50th, west of Highway 18 and east of Mayfield in San Bernardino. Pacific High School is being used as an evacuation center, the San Bernardino City Unified School District said.
By daylight, a modified DC-10 airtanker was making drops over the fire zone. Silver returned to find his home had not been damaged, except for some backyard landscaping charred by flames.
Erratic winds are fanning flames as Southern California faces another day of extreme red flag conditions. Fires sparked in dry and windy weather can quickly spread, creating a dangerous situation for residents and firefighters.
The strongest winds are expected Thursday morning, then will gradually diminish during the afternoon.
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