July 01–VICTORVILLE — Drivers found themselves in a traffic jam rivaling those seen in Los Angeles after a fire near Interstate 15 shut down traffic for hours Thursday.
The blaze erupted near the Palmdale Road off-ramp at northbound I-15 around 3:45 p.m. Thursday. What started as a small spot fire quickly spread, with firefighters eventually battling flames that tore through four acres of vegetation and jumped the Palmdale Road overpass.
As firefighters combated the blaze, the northbound lanes of I-15 were completely shut down at Palmdale Road around 5 p.m. The full closure lasted about two hours, causing traffic to come to a standstill all the way to Hesperia.
Several drivers on I-15 reported being stuck in traffic for hours Thursday. Daily Press Operations Manager Todd Bradshaw, who was headed to Kaiser Permanente on Park Avenue just south of Palmdale Road, said he was stuck in the traffic jam for a little over two hours.
— Paola Baker (@DP_PaolaBaker) July 1, 2016
“I was just going along and all of the sudden traffic came to a complete stop,” Bradshaw said. “I was right by the Red Roof Inn, so there was no way to get off.”
Dorothy, a West Covina resident who declined to provide her last name, also said she and her boyfriend were in traffic for about two hours as they headed to Las Vegas.
“When we passed by, it was pretty intense,” Dorothy said. “It was like a scene out of a movie.”
According to Caltrans, one lane was open by 7 p.m., while another lane was opened about an hour later. However, traffic remained snarled well into Thursday night.
California Highway Patrol Officer Jason Costello, who was on duty as the fire blazed, said the freeway remained shut down for so long due to the thick smoke coming from the fire.
“The smoke was probably the biggest issue,” Costello said. “Because of visibility, we didn’t want people to keep going until firefighters could clear it up more.”
The traffic nightmare didn’t just remain on the freeway as the Palmdale Road overpass and surrounding roads were also shut down. Brittnie Connelly, of Apple Valley, said she and her son found themselves stuck in traffic for three hours on Seventh Street and Green Tree Boulevard.
“I was crossing the overpass on Palmdale Road and right after I got over it and got to Seventh and Green Tree, the fire jumped,” Connelly said. “We had to drive through the smoke and got stuck right in the middle of all the smoke.”
As traffic remained at a standstill, many found other ways to spend the time.
“After about 20 minutes, everyone was out of their cars and talking to each other,” Bradshaw said. “Some people were handing out water bottles to others, so that was pretty cool to see.”
Several took the opportunity to snap some pictures, such as Connelly, who said she parked under a tree, got out her cellphone and took several photos and videos.
“It was so hot,” Dorothy said. “People got out of their cars to walk their dogs and take selfies.”
Bradshaw also mentioned that he saw a man cut the fence separating the freeway from Mariposa Road and get his car down the embankment to escape the traffic. About seven other vehicles went through the opening, he said, and some drivers handed their children over to people on the other side of the fence as traffic remained deadlocked.
While Costello said he hadn’t heard about the drivers crossing the freeway fence, he mentioned there were some issues with drivers turning around and going the wrong way at the Nisqualli Road exit, with officers even dealing with a minor crash in the area.
“There were two rows of cars going the wrong way (on Nisqualli Road) when I got there that I had to redirect,” Costello said.
However, firefighters said no injuries were reported due to the blaze or any other traffic issues.
The blaze was reported to be contained around 5:40 p.m. Thursday, although fire crews remained on scene for several hours through the evening for clean-up. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
By Paola Baker, Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.
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