California wildfires: Homes burn in San Bernardino and strong winds threaten to stoke other blazes

(CNN)Matthew Valdivia woke to the smell of smoke, and looked outside to see the glow of a wildfire in the hills near his home in San Bernardino early Thursday.

After waking up his wife and children and some neighbors, the Valdivia family joined thousands of other Southern Californians who’ve had to flee fires sweeping the state. And like those other evacuees, the Valdivias hoped firefighters could save their house.
It burned to the ground before sunrise.
Valdivia’s home was one of at least six that the Hillside Fire, which started in the hills above San Bernardino after midnight, damaged or destroyed Thursday morning as winds pushed it down into the city, officials say.

It is one of at least 11 active wildfires in a state plagued by them in recent weeks. Strong winds in Southern California threaten to stoke them further.

With gusts stronger than 50 mph expected in some areas, more than 17 million people in the state’s southern half are under red flag warnings — meaning wind, humidity and other conditions are ripe for fires.
The Hillside Fire is far from over — officials urge about 1,300 people in an evacuation zone in the north of the city to stay away. But the flames were out in Valdavia’s neighborhood by late morning, and Valdavia returned to find only charred remains of his house. He’d lived there a little more than a year.
“It hurts, but this can get replaced,” he said. “You can’t replace a life. That was my priority — just my kids, and making sure everybody was aware.”
One thing he regrets not grabbing: a laptop with the only copies of some baby photographs of his kids.
“That’s the only thing that hurts my feelings a lot — pictures I didn’t save,” he said.
The fire was first reported just north of San Bernardino around 1:40 a.m. PT (4:30 a.m. ET) and swept into neighborhoods on the city’s edge, consuming about 200 acres by mid-morning, officials said.

Authorities rushed to alert residents who’d been sleeping. No injuries have been reported.

Matthew Valdivia standing in front of the burned wreckage of his house in San Bernardino, CA.

490 homes in San Bernardino evacuated

Firefighters were working to keep the fire from advancing Thursday morning.
“This fire moves so fast that it’s imperative that people evacuate when we ask them to,” San Bernardino County Fire Deputy Chief Kathleen Opliger said. “It’s not a safe place to be.”
Evacuations have been ordered for about 490 homes in northern San Bernardino, the county fire department said.
The fire was a few miles away from Cal State San Bernardino, which was closed Thursday because the regional utility intentionally cut power as a precaution, hoping to prevent fires in the red-flag conditions. The campus lost power at 3:20 a.m. Thursday.
Julien Cooper, 53, and his father were sleeping in Cooper’s San Bernardino home when he heard his phone ringing. He woke up and smelled smoke.
“Ten seconds later, I hear the doorbell and I already know what it is since we had a fire a week ago,” he told CNN. “It was the neighbor saying that there was a fire in the field.”
Cooper grabbed his dad and his dog, crossed the street to help the neighbor’s elderly mother evacuate and met up with a relative at a McDonald’s. Minutes later he returned home and grabbed some valuables — and his neighbor’s home was on fire.
Cooper took video of the neighbor’s house engulfed in flames. His nephew Henri Moser, who lives out of state, shared it on Twitter. Cooper said he heard firefighters say they’d try to save his house, which had barely survived a wildfire 39 years earlier.