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Fire South Of Big Bear Lake Grows To 11,000 Acres

BARTON FLATS ( — Firefighters continue to battle a wildfire near Big Bear Lake that has grown to 11,000 acres and spurred the evacuation of hundreds of campers.

The fire burning east of Camp de Benneville Pines and south of Jenks Lake Road prompted help from more than 500 firefighters deployed to the area, along with several aircraft.

The fire remains at 10 percent containment.

Since the blaze erupted Wednesday afternoon, teams have been working to keep flames away from homes. The fire also prompted the closure of Highway 38 from Angelus Oaks to Lake Williams, as well as Jenks Lake Road.

Authorities have evacuated the areas east of Angelus Oaks, Onyx Summit, Barton Flats, Seven Oaks, Heart Bar and homes off of Rainbow Lane, the U.S. Forest Service reports.

KCAL9's Tom Wait sijd the dry brush is making it harder for firefighters to battle the blaze. Hot spots and rugged terrain are also a problem in the area.

One firefighter told him it might take between 7-10 days to fully contain the fire.

Air quality is also starting to worry area residents.

More than 40 homes and buildings are threatened by the blaze, which also prompted all hiking trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness to be closed. Additionally, officials report that Pacific Crest Trail is closed from Whitewater Preserve to Onyx Summit.

"The fire is burning fairly aggressively in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, east of Redlands, and the smoke is visible throughout the Inland Empire," according to John Miller with the U.S. Forest Service. "It has burned aggressively all night. As we all know, we've gone through a drought. The fuels up there are extremely dry. And yesterday afternoon into the evening, we've seen erratic winds. The fire was spotting up to a mile ahead of itself."

The fire was first reported at 4 p.m. Wednesday and had reached 50 acres by midnight. Hours later, by 6 a.m. Thursday, the flames had reached 1,000 acres.

The San Bernardino National Forest is full of tough terrain and dense trees, many of which were dead before the flames started.

"It makes it difficult for us to do a direct attack on the fire because of the threat of the trees coming down," said Chon Bribiescas of the U.S. Forest Service.

Throw in high temperatures, low humidity and wind gusts up to 35 mph. Bribiescas said, "Not only is that supplying more oxygen to the fire, obviously, but it's pushing the fire."

Crews evacuated 180 people from youth camps in the area. Twenty-six youth camps hold activities in the area this time of year, but Miller said it's a week or two before those camps get started.

Children evacuated from the camps were bused to Citrus Valley High School in Redlands to be reunited with their parents.

The cloud of black smoke blanketing the area reminds those in the area of what's being lost.

"I've hiked and camped all over this area, so it's sad to see a fire. ... Just the fact that the trees die, it will be generations of wildlife that will be impacted," said Linda Armbruster, an Orange resident who drove up with a bird-watching class. Road closures kept them away from the area.

"I've already gone in and gotten my bills and everything together," said Jeff Bouska, a Lake Williams resident, who lives in the shadow of the plume of smoke.

While evacuations have not been ordered for the neighborhood, some residents in the area say they're prepared should they have to leave. Highways 330 and 18 remain open, as does the Big Bear Lake area.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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