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Sheep Fire burning near Lytle Creek

October 4, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A fire driven by winds of more than 40 mph destroyed three homes and threatened dozens of others in a rugged warren of mountains and canyons northeast of San Bernardino on Saturday.As a huge wall of flames chewed through thick timber and brush in the Lytle Creek area 15 miles northeast of San Bernardino, residents of some 50 homes in its path fled, taking horses and pets with them. No injuries were reported.

"We do have structures lost, three homes in Swarthout Canyon," said Norma Bailey, a fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service. The area is not far from Interstate 15, a major route connecting Las Vegas with Southern California.

About 50 homes are located in the canyon, and Bailey said evacuation centers had been opened for people, large animals, such as horses, and smaller animals, such as dogs and cats. People were being housed at Eisenhower High School in nearby Rialto, while horses were being boarded at the Glen Helen Regional Park rodeo grounds in Devore and the fairgrounds in Victorville. Smaller animals were being taken to a local animal shelter. The area is about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

The blaze, named the Sheep Fire, broke out about 2 p.m. in the northwest corner of Lytle Creek, a small community surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest. Fueled by thick timber and brush, and pushed over hills and canyons by winds reaching 45 mph, it quickly burned across 3,500 acres.

It was only 5 percent contained late Saturday night, and its cause was under investigation.

In addition to the homes, campgrounds and an RV park in the area were also evacuated.

The interstate, from which huge plumes of smoke and walls of flames were visible, remained open.

The blaze was being fought by more than 1,000 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and the San Bernardino County Fire Department. Bailey said they used air tankers and water-dropping helicopters until darkness grounded the aircraft.

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