Highways into the San Bernardino Mountains are closed as residents run out of supplies, patience

Marc Cota-Robles Image
Saturday, March 4, 2023
Highways into the San Bernardino Mountains are closed to drivers
Roads and highways into the San Bernardino Mountains are closed to drivers attempting to bring supplies to trapped residents as they begin to run out food and other supplies.

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (KABC) -- The San Bernardino National Forest will be closed due to the effects of the recent winter storms until March 16, the National Park Service announced Friday morning.

NPS officials said the park will be closed due to the high snow accumulations throughout the park, as well as due to damage to roads and infrastructure to the surrounding mountain communities.

The order will exempt certain travelers, including people with a Forest Service permit that specifically exempts them from this order, residents in the area, persons engaged in business in the area, law enforcement and holders of certain ski passes.

The closure comes as residents in the surrounding mountain communities are still stranded in their homes due to the extremely high levels of snow still found on people's driveways, roads and highways.

Drivers and trucks filled with food supplies must put chains on their tires and be escorted up Highway 18 to reach the hard hit mountain communities. However, officials have paused most escorts for drivers so food trucks could be prioritized in order to bring supplies to communities running low on crucial items.

The pause in escorts and closing of the roads up the San Bernardino Mountains have frustrated people who have been trying to drive up to their homes or to loved ones to deliver food and other aid.

Carla Hansen of Running Springs has not been to her home since last Sunday, and she has been stopped at the bottom of the mountain on Highway 330, preventing her from delivering supplies to her neighbors.

"I got 16 senior citizens that I need to make sure get taken (care of). Getting covered," said Hansen.

"Caltrans has completely failed us," Hansen said. "They are up plowing but they are burying people in."

Caltrans has been plowing roads around-the-clock, but officials say their efforts have been hampered by fallen trees, downed utilities and abandoned vehicles.

Samantha Vazquez voiced frustrations with the situation as well, saying the family's disabled mother and her partner are trapped in their Lake Arrowhead home and running out of fuel.

"She's running out of gas for her generator. It's super cold," Vazquez said. "So much snow, like 8 feet. And, I need to go rescue my mother. Like, if I go up there and there's a body. What else am I supposed to do?"

Roads and highways into the San Bernardino Mountains are closed to drivers attempting to bring supplies to trapped residents as they begin to run out food and other supplies.

Despite the criticism, officials said they are doing the best they can in a difficult situation.

"These roads are a case by case," said Brendon Biggs, the director of public works. "Some roads we can up pretty fast other ones its one obstruction after another."

Residents have been snowed-in for, in some cases, more than a week as video shows snow piles reaching the roofs of people's homes.

A video taken today showed that someone in distress had written "HELP US!!" in the snow in Crestline.

Grocery stores in Lake Arrowhead have empty shelves, and the main grocery store in Crestline had its roof completely collapse on Thursday.

One Crestline resident was so desperate for food he decided to hike down the mountain. He said he made it halfway down the 13.5-mile hike before someone driving down the road picked him up and gave him a ride.

Homeowners have also started fires trying to heat their homes, causing another dangerous situation in what is already a dire one.

Caltrans has been plowing roads and highways in the area around-the-clock, but the task has been difficult due to the extreme conditions and the continued accumulation of snow throughout the week.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino and 12 other counties to provide greater assistance for damaged areas.

On Thursday, National Guard crews arrived to aid in the rescue and clean up efforts.

One resident, April Jennings, described the increasingly critical situation.

"We're starting to run out of food," said Jennings. "This morning we noticed a crack in the ceiling. And I just feel like I am trapped here."

Workers will continue to plow roads and give assistance to the mountain communities using trucks and at least eight snow cats.

Residents who are trapped in their homes and running out of food, or maybe have no heat, are urged to call the Mountain Resident Hotline at 909-387-3911. For emergencies, people are still urged to call 911.

For more information on how much snow crews have plowed, San Bernardino County has set up a GIS map on its website to show how much snow has been plowed and where. According to the website, crews have plowed at least 182 miles of snow in the past 24 hours.