Brush fire closes I-5 as extreme heat wave grips California

A major highway in Southern California was closed Wednesday after a brush fire broke out and quickly grew during the first day of an extreme heat wave, officials said.

As of Wednesday night, no structures had been destroyed in the Route Fire near Castaic, north of Los Angeles, but the fire was more than 4,600 acres, and Interstate 5 was closed in both directions.

The fire broke out east of I-5 at around noon, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Sheila Kelliher Berkoh said, and it occurred as most of California was under an excessive heat warning. No containment was reported.

Temperatures of 109 degrees were recorded in the area shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

“We’re really at Day One of about a nine- to 10-day fairly extreme heat period,” Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Tom Ewald said at a news conference.

“If you can imagine wearing heavy firefighting gear, carrying packs, dragging hose, swinging tools — the folks out there are just taking a beating,” he said.

Eight firefighters suffered heat-related injuries, and six were taken to hospitals, Ewald said. Their condition is good.

More than 350 firefighters from Los Angeles County and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as 15 aircraft, were fighting the fire Wednesday, Kelliher Berkoh said.

Between 100 and 200 homes were evacuated, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Barclay said.

Officials could not say when I-5, a major route between Los Angeles and northern communities like Bakersfield, would reopen, but inspections were being conducted.

“We’re hoping it will be relatively soon,” California Highway Patrol Capt. Ed Krusey said. “We still have to check it for any structural issues.”

Northbound traffic was being turned around Wednesday near the fire.

More than 35 million people were under excessive heat warnings Wednesday across the West and Southwest and in most of California, as well as parts of Nevada and Arizona, according to the weather service.

Another blaze in Southern California, the Border 32 Fire, prompted the closure of the Tecate border crossing, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.

The fire in San Diego County, which began shortly after 2 p.m., had burned more than 4,200 acres and was 5% contained by 10 p.m., fire officials said. More than 400 homes were under evacuation orders, emergency officials said.

The potentially record-breaking heat wave in Southern California is forecast to continue into next week, according to the weather service.

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