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Wildfire erupts in San Bernardino County on hot, windy Southern California day; closes 15, 215 freeways

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Firefighters in San Bernardino County appear to be slowing the advance of a 375-acre brushfire that’s shut down a 10-mile portion of the 15 Freeway in the Cajon Pass, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, and forced the evacuations of a community of ranch homes.

The fire is currently 5 percent contained, with full containment expected by 6 p.m. Tuesday, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman told KPCC.

Residents from at least three homes in the Mathews Ranch area north of Devore were told to evacuate as the wind-driven fire burns through dry brush along both sides of the 15 freeway.

“The firefighters did have quite a battle to fight, but we had 450 personnel fighting from the air and from the ground, and quick decisive action pretty much got a handle of it. The smoke is reduced right now, and we’re feeling good about the containment we have,” said U.S. Forest service spokeswoman Carol Underhill.

The Devore fire broke out shortly before 11 a.m., as the region baked under the influence of a Santa Ana condition producing hot, dry air, with winds of 10 mph and gusts of about 25 mph.

The CHP shut down the 15, a major route between Southern California and Las Vegas, in both directions as ground crews and air tankers battle the fire and move into place for structure protection. Firefighters faced steep terrain, temperatures in the upper 80s and wind gusts of about 20 miles per hour.

The 15 had reopened with escorts by the California Highway Patrol by 5 p.m., according to Hesperia police.

The fire was close enough to the road to pose a risk to drivers, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Billy Rangel said.

"It had jumped across the freeway from the northbound side to the southbound side. It does affect people coming from Los Angeles area , San Gabriel Valley, Inland Empire, up the 15 going towards Victorville, Barstow, Las Vegas," Rangel said. "It's a main artery for this area, even on Monday."

The fire was near Interstate 15's Kenwood exit. It also led to closures on the 15 and Interstate 215 freeways, as well as Cajon Boulevard, part of the old Route 66.

Some 200 firefighters aided by 10 aircraft fought the fire, authorities said.

No word yet on what caused the fire.

Although early afternoon winds in the area were modest by Santa Ana standards, the National Weather Service said some mountain areas could see speeds up to 40 mph during the day.

A red flag warning indicating a high risk of wildfire was also in effect in the mountains and forests of Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to strong winds, low humidity and unseasonably high heat. It went into effect Sunday night and remains in effect until 4 p.m. in the San Gabriel and Santa Monica mountains, the Angeles National Forest and the Los Podres National Forest in Ventura County.

The U.S. Forest Service says it mobilized five additional 20-person crews and 15 engines in advance of this week’s increased fire danger.

There's also an elevated risk of fire in other parts of the region, including the valleys, though not as extreme.

"This, in combination with critically dry fuels, will bring elevated fire danger to much of the region through Monday," warned an NWS advisory, stating that the danger will be highest this afternoon.

Most areas will see a cooling trend this week, though, with temperatures dropping sharply. Downtown L.A. has a high Monday of 95, but that drops to 84 on Tuesday, then 77 on Wednesday, to 68 on Thursday and 64 on Friday, when rain is expected, according to an NWS forecast.

This story has been updated.

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