Image: Smoke from fire
Cynthia L. Webb via AP
Smoke from a rapidly spreading wildfire along Interstate 15 near Hesperia, Calif., is seen Friday.
updated 9/3/2011 6:31:37 AM ET 2011-09-03T10:31:37

A fast-moving wildfire erupted Friday on the main interstate between Southern California and Las Vegas, forcing evacuations of 1,500 homes and the closure of the freeway.

By late Friday, firefighters were gaining the upper hand on the fire, allowing officials to lift evacuation orders for half of the homes and reopen the freeway to holiday weekend traffic.

The fire began Friday afternoon on the center divider of Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass.

It quickly grew to 1,100 acres, or nearly 2 square miles, jumping the freeway and burning chaparral in rolling hills that form the nearby San Bernardino National Forest and rural areas of San Bernardino County.

The fire was fueled by winds up to 15 mph and 90 degree temperatures, but by dusk cooler weather and calmer winds helped 750 firefighters surround 20 percent of the blaze, U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller said.

"The fire laid down pretty good, firefighters have made very good progress," Miller said.

Hunt for hot spots
The fire destroyed two mobile homes and damaged two other structures. A firefighter suffered heat exhaustion and another suffered a medical-related injury, he said.

An evacuation was ordered as the fire moved northwest toward large ranch homes in the Oak Hills area.

Fire crews were placed to defend the houses as the flames came within yards of some of them.

By evening, authorities determined it was safe for those who live on the north and west side of the fire to come back.

Miller said firefighters were focused on putting out hot spots and completing containment lines through the night.

Victorville resident Tom Woods told KCAL-TV the Oak Hills area contains hundreds of recently built luxury horse properties spread over the hills, some of which were worth $1 million.

The fire initially closed all freeway lanes, snarling traffic as drivers struggled to start their Labor Day weekend getaways. Nearly all northbound and southbound lanes were reopened by evening.

More than a dozen aircraft, including a DC-10 jumbo jet tanker, were called in to help fight the flames.

Air quality officials predicted that smoke from the fire would cause problems for people with health sensitivities in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountain areas. The South Coast Air Quality Management District urged them to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities.

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Video: Wildfire forces evacuations in southern California

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