Wildfire closes key California highway through the weekend

SHASTA-TRINITY NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. (AP) — A stretch of a major highway near the California-Oregon border will remain closed through the weekend as crews try to tame a roaring wildfire burning on both sides of the north-south route, authorities announced Friday.

The blaze that shut down Interstate 5 on Wednesday was still burning out of control, said Denise Yergenson, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation.

"There is active fire close to the highway," she said. "There is lots of damage, lots of emergency personnel. It's just not a safe situation."

Officials on Sunday will reevaluate whether to reopen the route that traverses the entire West Coast from Mexico to Canada and usually swarms with trucks and traffic.

It was a ghost road along a 45-mile stretch where fire swept down two days earlier and turned hills on either side into walls of flame. Drivers fled in terror and several big-rigs burned Wednesday.

Before the highway is reopened, authorities have to check the safety of the pavement and cut down burned trees next to the road – some of them 70 feet tall – that might be in danger of falling down.

The fire had burned more than 34 square miles of timber and brush and prompted evacuation orders for scattered homes and buildings in three counties in and around the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. At times, flames shot up 300 feet high.

Although the fire wasn't burning near any large towns, fire spokesman Brandon Vacarro said about 280 homes were considered threatened. There were some reports that homes had burned but Vacarro could only confirm that an outbuilding and two mixed-use commercial and residential buildings had been damaged.

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