A new, wind-whipped wildfire in San Bernardino area forces evacuation of 500 homes

David K. Li

A new wildfire east of Los Angeles damaged or destroyed several homes and forced the evacuation of at least 1,300 people early Thursday, officials said.

The Hillside fire, about 70 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, was first reported at about 1:40 a.m. and within hours had charred at least 200 acres, San Bernardino County Fire Chief Don Trapp told reporters.

Initial reports had 18 homes had burned, but Trapp said: "At this point, initial assessments are we have six homes and two outbuildings consumed or damaged by the fire."

Sustained winds between 20 mph and 30 mph and gusts of up to 60 mph hampered the efforts of 350 firefighters in Lower Waterman Canyon to contain the blaze, the fire officials said.

"This fire spread downhill very very rapidly through the night and into the early morning hours," San Bernardino County Assistant Fire Chief Kathleen Opliger said.

Related: Wildfires in California

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Authorities ordered mandatory evacuations of about 490 homes with about 1,300 residents.

Local resident Susan Mercado said she's grateful firefighters got to her house in the nick of time.

"We took the kitties, ourselves and our cellphone, and that's it," Mercado old NBC Los Angeles. "The fire was coming through our yard. It was life or death."

She added: "I don't know how they saved our house."

This blaze is the latest of several fires that have been torching tinder-dry Southern California.

The Getty fire in West Los Angeles has burned at least 745 acres and was 39 percent contained by Wednesday night, officials said.

Meanwhile the Easy fire, in Simi Valley, had consumed about 1,645 by Wednesday night and briefly threatened the Ronald Reagan Peesidential Library.