OAK HILLS Firefighters Friday battled a wind-driven brush fire that spread to more than 500 acres, halted freeway traffic and forced the evacuation of nearly 1,000 homes.


The Hill Fire started along the Interstate 15 center divider around 12:40 p.m. Friday as motorists took to the freeway for their long Labor Day weekend, according to California Highway Patrol officials. The flames jumped the freeway and into the San Bernardino National Forest, growing to 250 acres in a little more than an hour as high winds drove flames across the dry brush, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller.


The wildfire then doubled in size by around 2:40 p.m., according to San Bernardino National Forest spokeswoman Carol Underhill, with zero containment as of 3:50 p.m.


Mandatory evacuations were in effect for residents in the triangular area south of Joshua Road, from Interstate 15 to west of Baldy Mesa Road, according to U.S. Forestry Service officials. An evacuation center for both people and animals was set up at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds on Seventh Street and Desert Knoll Drive in Victorville.


One Oak Hills man and his wife, who both declined to be identified, drove into a neighborhood near Jenny and Braceo streets to help residents evacuate their homes and their animals.


"I know there are people up here who may need help so I came up here to see what I can do," the unnamed Samaritan said.


Philip Stump and his friends drove from Phelan to help protect a friend's home while he was in Arizona.


"We're just trying as best we can," he said as he worked with a shovel to remove dry brush from around his friend's home.


According to Stump, he and his friends also helped another man protect his property as the flames lapped at the fence surrounding the homeowner's house.


Two water-dropping helicopters, the DC-10 and a retardant-dropping plane, were called in to help fight the enormous fire. Ten engines, 15 aircraft and a bulldozer were fighting the blaze, which closed all southbound lanes and two northbound lanes. Firefighters were protecting several homes in Oak Hills, Phelan and Pinon Hills.


Witnesses initially reported that the flames had jumped the freeway near the brake check area, with hundreds of motorists stranded as the holiday weekend approached.


As hundreds of firefighters worked to get a handle of the Hill Fire, a second smaller fire burned about two acres near Arrowhead Lake Road and Highway 173, according to fire officials.


Miller says one or two motorists may have suffered smoke inhalation. An air quality alert was issued by the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District. One firefighter had to be evacuated from the fire scene. The firefighter's condition was unknown.


As of 6 p.m., firefighters were trying to stay ahead of the flames and there was no containment. The cause of the fire was unknown.


Beatriz E. Valenzuela may be reached at (760) 951-6276 or at BValenzuela@VVDailyPress.com.