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California Wildfire Overtakes Freeway, Burns Multiple Cars

The 500-acre North Fire jumped the Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass northeast of Los Angeles Friday afternoon, setting unsuspecting vehicles aflame.

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A large wildfire in Southern California overtook a major freeway, destroying 20 vehicles.

The cars were stopped on Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass northeast of Los Angeles around 3 p.m. when the North Fire jumped the roadway. Video footage from KTLA-TV shows the vehicles fully engulfed in flames as helicopters dropped water from above.

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U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Melody Lardner told BuzzFeed News a total of 20 vehicles were destroyed, while 10 more were damaged. She added that as the fire bore down on the road, many drivers jumped out and ran.

Many of those drivers did not leave their keys in the car, which left the road blocked by both burned and functional-but-abandoned vehicles. Lardner said the California Highway Patrol was on scene Friday evening trying to tow the vehicles.

The clog of vehicles made it difficult for firefighters and trucks to reach the roadway fires, Lardner added.

The vehicles affected by the fire included multiple cars, a boat on a trailer, and a semitruck.

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None of the drivers were injured when the fire jumped onto the road, Lardner said.

It was not immediately clear why the cars stopped near the fire. Lardner said Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass often sees congestion on Fridays as Southern Californians head to Las Vegas. Traffic also may have been exacerbated by construction in the area, Lardner said.

That congestion could have left the cars unable to move away from the fire.

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Stranded drivers evacuating fire in CA in Cajon Pass

Soon after the blaze started, drones flying over the area forced officials to temporarily ground firefighting aircraft.

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Lardner confirmed that there were reports of drones, but did not know where they came from. She said the drones were only reported soon after the fire began and that aircraft were eventually able to return to the fight.

The National Forest Service later tweeted a poster about drones and wildfires:

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The fire erupted Friday afternoon around 2:33 p.m. and quickly spread to 3,500 acres.

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Lardner expected acreage estimates to rise before the end of the night Friday. David Cruz, also with the U.S. Forest Service, told BuzzFeed News the fire was was 5% contained Friday night.

The cause was still under investigation.

Praying they get this fire under control! video from my parents front yard #ABC7EYEWITNESS

The fire destroyed four buildings Friday.

Cruz confirmed that the buildings had burned, but did not have additional information. However, the San Bernardino County Fire Department had previously announced that five homes were on fire:

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#NorthFire (Update) 2,000 acres 5 homes confirmed burning 50 imm threatened. #SBCoFD w/ Mutual aid resources providing #StructureDefense

U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Uriah Hernandez told BuzzFeed News the fire was "moving at a rapid rate of spread" late Friday afternoon, driven by high temperatures, wind, and dry vegetation.

About 1,000 fire fighters were assigned to battle the blaze by Friday night, according to the U.S. Forest Service. An additional 22 fire engines were at the scene, along with eight water-dropping airplanes and three helicopters.

Mandatory evacuations had been ordered for the Baldy Mesa community. The fire also forced the closure of Interstate 15.

Cruz said there were no reports of injuries Friday.

The fire ripped through California's desert during the fourth year of the state's worst drought in decades.

As of Thursday, 99.86% of the state was experiencing at least some level of abnormal dryness. An array of other measures — including of rain runoff and snowpack — also suggest the drought is the worst dry period in decades, and possibly longer.

Those conditions have prompted officials to limit the size of lawns and issue unprecedented water restrictions.

Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Jim Dalrymple II at jim.dalrymple@buzzfeed.com.

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