A huge plume of smoke crosses over an empty Interstate 15 on Wednesday. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

Firefighters faced searing temperatures and steep terrain on Thursday after making limited progress containing a fast-moving Southern California blaze that has incinerated many buildings and forced more than 80,000 people from their homes.

The Blue Cut Fire, which erupted on Tuesday in the mountainous Cajon Pass northeast of Los Angeles, had exploded to cover 34,500 acres by early Thursday, growing nearly 10,000 acres overnight, fire officials said.

Firefighters had managed to carve containment lines around only 4 percent of the wildfire consuming parched and rugged landscape, officials said on the InciWeb tracking website.

Fire officials, who have described the fire’s intensity as highly unusual, expressed concern that “red flag” weather conditions would keep the area dry, hot and windy. Temperatures in the area are expected to hover around 90 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Much of the fire, named for the narrow gorge north of San Bernardino where it started, is burning in uninhabited areas between the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, but populated areas also have been affected.

Evacuation orders are in place for about 82,000 residents, including the community of Wrightwood.

It was not immediately clear how many homes had burned but San Bernardino County Fire Department spokesman Louis Penna said in an email that dozens of structures, at least, were destroyed. Local television stations showed several gutted homes.

About a dozen school districts and a hospital clinic, all of which were closed on Thursday, were also threatened by the blaze, according to InciWeb.

State transit officials said northbound lanes of Interstate 15 would reopen in the area by the end of the day.

The blaze is the latest in a series of intense wildfires in the U.S. West, where years of drought have placed a heavy burden on firefighting resources.

Giant smoke columns rising from the fire could been seen from space in images captured on Wednesday by a NASA satellite, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

U.S. government forecasters have said the risk of major wildfires in Southern California is likely to remain high until December, given the dryness and warm weather.

— Reuters

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.