Scenes from the Blue Cut Fire taken by the SBC Fire.
By Terri Hill
On Tuesday, August 16 at 10:36 a.m., a small fire was reported in the area off Route 66 called Blue Cut. First reports were of a 2-acre vegetation fire. Within the first hour, the fire had raged up Swarthout Canyon and made a run on West Cajon Valley. Evacuations were ordered for the West Cajon Valley (Highway 2 to I-15) and Lytle Creek by 11:30 a.m. and San Bernardino County Fire was reporting 500+ acres involved. By 12:30 p.m. with 2,000 acres burning, Wild Horse Canyon, including the Mountaineer Progress Office, was ordered to evacuate. As firefighters tried in earnest to gain control, the blaze fingered its way into lower Lone Pine Canyon and west along SR-138. CHP closed 138 from Highway 2 to I-15, and the freeway was closed from Devore to Oak Hills. At 3:30 p.m. with County Fire reporting the blaze at 5,000+ acres, the entire community of Wrightwood was given mandatory evacuation orders. With 138 and Lone Pine closed, the only exit from the community was N4 and Highway 2 at the west end of town. Residents who work down the hill rushed to make it home in time to be allowed into the community to pack their belongings and evacuate. The Apple Valley and Devore Animal Shelters, the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds in Victorville, and many private ranchers were available for large and small animal boarding. Facebook became a means of communication between those in need and those with resources. Although the evacuation was mandatory, by Wednesday morning nearly half of Wrightwood residents had remained in their homes. Neighbors who stayed behind tried to help look after and rescue pets left behind by those who could not return before access to Wrightwood was cut off Tuesday evening. Still, the sheriff’s department stressed the importance of the evacuation for the safety of residents and firefighting personnel. Further evacuations were ordered for Phelan (between I-15 and Phelan Road), East and West Oak Hills, and sections of Pinon Hills as well as the Desert Front neighborhoods. As the unified command, including US Forest Service, SBCo Fire, Cal Fire, SBC Sheriff, and CHP tried to get ahead of the forward spread, high winds pushed the fire north and soon 15,000 acres of dry brush was fully involved. At 6:00 p.m. SBCo Fire reported six of their firefighters became entrapped by wildfire while defending homes and assisting in evacuations in Swarthout Canyon that afternoon. All six firefighters took shelter within a nearby structure. Two of them sustained minor injuries and were both transported to a local hospital, treated, and released and reported back on the fire line defending structures. One county fire engine was also reported to have received moderate fire damage. As of early Wednesday evening an estimated 34,500 homes and 82,640 people had been affected by the evacuation warnings. 30,000+ acres had burned with 0% containment. Firefighting units included 1,309 personnel, 152 engines, 18 crews, 8 air tankers, 2 Very Large Air Tankers (VLATS), and 8 helicopters, including night flying helicopters. While drones had not been seen over the Blue Cut Fire, fire managers warned that unmanned aircraft systems pose a major threat to personnel and air support. Some schools in the Snowline, Victorville, and San Bernardino Districts are closed until further notice. Call your school district for details on the closures.
Blue Cut’s extraordinary timeline
By Terri Hill
As entire communities try to recover the sense of normalcy to daily life after the Blue Cut Fire, the fire’s timeline is a sobering and somber reality. On Tuesday, August 16th at 10:37, a 2-acre fire was reported in the area known as Blue Cut, on the west side of I-15. Just 23 minutes later, the blaze had spread and caused the closure of Old Cajon Road. By 11:18, five acres were fully involved. 12 p.m. – Full closure of I-15 12:02 – Mandatory evacuation called for West Cajon Valley 12:18 – Fire is 1,000 acres 1:07 – 1500 acres 2:22 – 2500 acres By 3:19, in just one hour, the acreage had doubled to 5,000. 3:22 – Mandatory evacuation called for Wrightwood Throughout the afternoon, areas of Phelan, Pinon Hills, Lytle Creek and Baldy Mesa were evacuated. Highways 2, 138, 173, and 395, Lone Pine and Lytle Creek Roads were subjected to full and partial closures. 6:18 – homes burning 6:46 – Summit Inn fully involved, McDonald’s suffers fire damage 9 p.m. – Fire has spread to 9,000 acres 10:14 – 15,000 acres By midnight, fewer than 10 hours after the initial flames, the inferno had grown to 28 square miles. Over the next three days, Cal Fire, SBCo Fire, USFS Fire, and agencies from around Southern California and beyond would battle the fast-moving blaze that fingered its way through canyons, across highways, from mountain ridges to desert floor. By August 23nd, the fire’s acreage was corrected to 36,274 acres, with 100% containment. Evacuations were being lifted or reduced to voluntary from Friday, August 19th, to Sunday the 211st. All evacuations for communities affected by the fire were lifted on the morning of Monday, August 22nd. All roads were reopened that evening. Residents of the Tri-Community and beyond returned from their evacuation refuges to their homes and properties over the weekend. While most were fortunate to finds homes, cars, and precious belongings untouched by the wildfire’s flames, others returned to find ash in place of their homes. A total of 105 single-family homes were destroyed and 213 “other minor structures,” according to the Interagency Management Team. The historic Summit Inn was lost, and McDonald’s on Wagon Trail Road was damaged. Cal Fire stated, in their Fire Situation Report on August 22, the Blue Cut Fire is the 20th most destructive fire in California’s history. Communities directly affected by the firestorm include West Cajon Valley, Lytle Creek, Oak Hills, Phelan, Pinon Mesa, Wrightwood, and Swarthout and Lone Pine Canyons. Also affected were the nearby communities of Victorville, Apple Valley, and Hesperia, as they provided shelter for people and their pets and livestock. CHP, and L.A. and San Bernardino County Sheriffs assisted with traffic control, and patrolled evacuated neighborhoods. Six arrests were made for looting and suspicious activities.
Hundreds celebrate Grassy Hollow anniversary and Smokey Bear
By Terri Hill
After Boy Scout Troop 351 did the honors of raising the flag, the festivities began at Grassy Hollow Visitor Center on Saturday, August 13. From music and crafts, to Native American and Grassy Hollow histories, the day was filled with special events and presentations to celebrate Smokey Bear’s 72nd Birthday, and Grassy Hollow Visitor Center’s 20th Anniversary. Throughout the day, Smokey Bear made appearances for photo ops with the children, of every age, and share his birthday cake with visitors. Once in the morning, and again in the afternoon, Linda Dailey gave her informative presentation about Smokey. She taught children, and reminded adults, that Smokey’s message is to prevent wildfire and practice caution with matches and lighters. Dailey also told the story of the bear cub found during a forest fire in New Mexico in 1950, who would become the national symbol for fire prevention. Making the yearly celebration possible is Volunteers of the Angeles National Forest (VANF) at Grassy Hollow Visitor Center. Each year, Smokey’s birthday is anticipated and attended by scores of excited children hoping to see the infamous bear. VANF members work with the Forest Service to provide programs and demos all day, and of course, cake. Combining their 20th Anniversary with Smokey’s big day, the center enlisted local talent and educators who filled the day with popular events. In the morning, Loren and Michelle Schneider entertained the audience at the amphitheater with eco-songs and Lora Steinmann’s Junior Snowline Players presented their melodrama, Polly Pureheart Prevails. John “Spiritwolf” and Raven “Magpie” Rivera gave a presentation on Native American culture, and Wolf Mountain Sanctuary was there with their ever-popular ambassador wolves. Dark clouds passed overhead into the afternoon, but to everyone’s disappointment, yielded no rain. Even a summer storm would not have dampened the spirits of those gathered for the activities, outside and inside the Center. USFS workers gave tours of the fire engines and equipment. Children resembled shrunken adults as they donned the firefighting gear and learned to “throw dirt,” and handle a fire hose. VANF members were stationed at the craft tent all day. Children made owls from toilet paper rolls and other nature related crafts. Terry Haider was back with his mules to educated visitors at the amphitheater about mountain ways, and Loren Schneider presented “Geology of the San Gabriels” in the Animal Room at the Center. A special ceremony honored two people who have gone above and beyond in their service benefitting the Visitor Center and the VANF. Barbara Van Houten was recognized for 14 years teaching in Wrightwood, Phelan, and Lucerne Valley. She worked for the Forest Service managing Big Pines Information Center, on Fire Prevention Patrol, and managing seven campgrounds as the Campground Management Contractor for 14 years. Van Houten gave up the contract on Grassy Hollow in 1993 so the USFS could build the Visitor Center. She and Helga Wallner were instrumental in the formation of what is now the Volunteers of the Angeles National Forest. Van Houten and Pat Krig authored Wrightwood and Big Pines for the Images of America series. Van Houten gives history presentations at both Grassy Hollow, and the Wrightwood Museum. Shawn Troeger was a Forest Service volunteer at age 18, and an employee by age 19. Of her 34 years with the USFS, the last 17 were spent at Big Pines. She represented Wrightwood’s interests on the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Collaborative. Loren Lake, of VANF, said during the presentation, “She and her husband Mike have been an ongoing invaluable source of support for us at Grassy Hollow, as they have been for the community of Wrightwood. John Lenau gave the last educational presentation of the day as he gave a brief history of VANF. He related stories of expanding the educational programs, building the “touchy-feely” boxes in the Animal Room, and relocating bats and mice from inside the building to their proper homes outdoors. Lenau also told the story of coming in one morning to find the front door broken and the 750-pound safe missing from its locked room. The theft of the safe, and money to repair damage to the building were fairly costly. But as the safe rarely had more than $50 in it, members of VANF figured the thieves spent more stealing the safe, than they garnered from its contents. A fitting end to the day’s activities was a piano concert performed my Wrightwood resident Rodger Whitten. Along with melodies by Gershwin, and locals’ favorite original works, Whitten played and sang “Smokey the Bear” by Steve Nelson. Having printed out the lyrics to share, Whitten invited the audience to sing along, while Smokey himself danced to the tune.
Wrightwood Jazz Concert
By Michael Palecki
It was breezy jazz music in a spacious mountaintop home that really made the first Saturday of August a cool afternoon. Presented by Wrightwood Classical Concert Series and produced by Joyce Wonderly, the concert entitled “Jazz, Fine Wine and a View…oh my” was certainly a breathtaking experience for 50 guests. The music consisted of nine jazz standards arranged by Program Director and Guitarist Walter Foley. Additional musicians included renowned upright bass player Marshall Hawkins, Lynn Davison on keyboards and vocals, Wynell Montgomery playing saxophone and flute, with Allen Winkle performing on drums. After Joyce Wonderly welcomed the audience, the concert began with guest vocalist Gayle Dowling singing Dream A Little Dream Of Me, accompanied by Walter Foley on electric guitar. The song written by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt with lyrics by Gus Kahn also incorporated a trace of flute, keyboards and drums with Dowling lilting her way through the lively pace. Following that selection, Foley changed guitars for a shriller tone on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, which also featured solo performances from Davison on keyboards and Hawkins with a mellow bass. Throughout that selection as well as others, the all-wood log-home resonated sound well, with the guests seated close enough to the musicians to absorb any potential echo. Drum brushes before the beat and then the saxophone melting into a flute change followed by the piano on the Miles Davis song All Blues, set the stage for Hawkins to go scatting on the bass as he once had with Davis. Other enjoyable highlights from the concert included Davison singing Twisted with lyrics by Annie Ross in a wildly modulated vocalese, and The Waters Of March by Sergio Mendes with syncopated lyrics dancing around a harpsichord sound on keyboards as the flute wafted in and the intensity strengthened into a crisp ending. The last two songs, Windows by Chick Corea and Sugar written by saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, provided ample opportunities for the musicians to stretch out with extended solo performances. Windows began with a keyboard introduction and then flowed into a flute, bass, and guitar passage as the audience applauded. With Sugar being more than 10 minutes in length, there was even more time for each instrument to be featured. After a long saxophone introduction that went from shrill to fluctuating, the keyboards, bass picking and soft drums created magical interludes. A heavy drum solo followed by saxophone and guitar guided the performance to a conclusion, with cheers from the audience. The Wrightwood Classical Concert Series 2016 continues on December 11, bringing the finest carols and cantatas to music fans in an intimate venue to be announced. For additional information contact Joyce Wonderly at (760) 249-3487 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org