Lake Fire in California burns 40 square miles; firefighting aircraft forced to land when drone spotted in air

BIG BEAR, Calif. -- A flare-up of a wildfire that has burned about 40 square miles in the San Bernardino Mountains south of Big Bear prompted new evacuation orders Thursday.

Nearly 7,400 structures were threatened by the blaze, named the Lake Fire, according to a news release issued Thursday morning by the interagency fire management team.

KTLA reported that the community of Pioneertown was placed under a voluntary evacuation order on Wednesday, and some 360 campers were evacuated from Camp Oakes in the Lake Williams area as a precautionary measure.

Pioneertown resident Jill Endicotte, who was evacuating along with her neighbors’ horses, told KTLA that the scenario was like “déjà vu” because her home was one of about 50 that burned in the 2006 Sawtooth Fire.

Sean Duggan, another local, said he purchased his property for fairly inexpensively  because it also had burned in the 61,700-acre Sawtooth Fire.

“I thought, oh, it’s kind of safe. Now … we’ve got fire coming over the hill, and it’s a little nerve-wracking being up here,” Duggan said.

Evacuation orders also remained in effect in all areas east of Angelus Oaks, including Barton Flats, Seven Oaks, Heart Bar and homes off Rainbow Lane. All cabins and campgrounds in the South Fork area were also under evacuation orders.

The cost of the firefight, which began in the Barton Flats area on the afternoon of June 17, had risen to $14.6 million, the release stated Thursday.

By early evening Thursday, the fire was up to 25,599 acres, or nearly 40 square miles, and containment was further down to 19 percent, according to a tweet from the San Bernardino National Forest.

Some 2,116 firefighters and support personnel were working the blaze.

Firefighter battling that side of the fire were hampered in their efforts when an air tactical group supervisor encountered a drone flying between his plane and another aircraft fighting the flames, Forest Service authorities said.

All aircraft working the south side of the fire were forced to land as a result of the incident, which impeded efforts to stop the fire’s rapid spread, Mike Eaton, forest aviation officer for the San Bernardino National Forest, said during a Thursday morning news conference.

“It kept us, just the aircraft we had in the air at the time, from delivering 5,000 gallons of retardant to the fire, and any subsequent missions we might have had,” he said. “The big part of it, is that we had to shut down subsequent missions that could have contained, possibly, that south side of the fire. So the fire continues to burn."


Although hundreds of structures have been threatened by the massive blaze since it broke out last week, no buildings have been damaged or destroyed thus far.