(AP Photo)

Firefighters are keeping a close watch on the winds as they battle the so-called Sheep Fire which has destroyed at least three homes and prompted mandatory evacuations in communities at the eastern end of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Cooling temperatures and higher humidity were providing some relief early Monday as the fire crept within a half mile of Wrightwood. The temperature there, at an elevation of 6,000 feet, dipped into the 40s overnight.

Firefighters have been spreading fire retardant gel on structures in the popular resort town to protect them from advancing flames. They're also using manmade lakes at Mountain High ski resort to refill for water drops. Fire crews say that's how they've been able to save the town of Wrightwood.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a State of Emergency for San Bernardino County, freeing up state resources to fight the fire.

At least three isolated houses between Wrightwood and Lytle Creek have burned. About 2,000 homes remained threatened -- dozens of them on the northeast side of the fire -- in the Cajon Junction area near Interstate 15 at California 138, firefighters said.

Cabins, houses and corrals on the eastern side of Wrightwood were evacuated after firefighters were unable to contain the fire's spread to the northwest. Between 4,000 and 6,000 residents are affected by the evacuation orders.

The fire, driven by winds reaching 40 mph, was reported around 2:11 p.m. Saturday in Lytle Creek Canyon, a steep chasm west of Interstate 15 at Devore.

The fire quickly doubled in size Sunday, scorching 7,500 acres.

"The fire is erratic and unpredictable," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller. "The fire spread greater than expected."

U.S. Forest Service officials say the blaze is about 20 percent contained.

Mandatory Evacuations
  • Entire town of Wrightwood
  • Lone Pine Canyon Road
  • Swarthout Canyon Rd
  • E. Lytle Creek Canyon Rd. to N. Mountain Lakes RV Park
  • Community of Applewhite
  • Applewhite Camp Grounds
An evacuation center has been set up at Eisenhower High School in nearby Rialto.

Large animals are being evacuated to the Glen Helen Regional Park rodeo grounds in Devore. Smaller animals can be taken to a local animal shelter.

Road Closures
  • State Route 2 east of Wrightwood. The only road open for evacuees from Wrightwood is state Route 2 west to Mountain High Ski Area, then Big Pines Highway (route N-4) north to Route 138.
  • Highway 138 from the 15 Freeway to Highway 2
  • Highway 2... Entire section
  • Lone Pine Canyon Road from Highway 138 to Highway 2
  • Lyttle Creek Road from the 15 Freeway up

More information can be found on the County of San Bernardino's Web site: http://www.co.san-bernardino.ca.us/evocdata.asp

The fire was burning old trees along both sides of Lone Pine Road, which connects the Inland Empire to Wrightwood.

"Right now we are very concerned about Wrightwood," said San Bernardino fire spokesman Mike Horton.

The fire had not yet crossed the divide between Lone Pine Canyon and Wrightwood, however. Fire trucks from as far away as Glendale were stationed among houses to prevent the fire from making the jump.

Over 1,000 firefighters are attacking the flames with helicopters, water-dropping planes and dozens of fire engines, the Forest Service reports.

Airplanes like the DC-10 and Mars marine seaplane were used Saturday, but gusty winds and low visibility kept them grounded Sunday.

One firefighter suffered heat-related injuries while working to put out the flames, Miller said.

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity are helping fire crews, but the winds remain a problem.

Downwind and west of this fire lies the unburned half of the San Gabriel Mountains, which was saved from the Station Fire last month. But winds in between the two burn areas were clocked at 28 miles an hour at 8 a.m., blowing the Sheep Fire towards the Station Fire's charred remains.

The Mountain High Ski Area is about 8 miles downwind from the fire, officials said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.