Devouring Everything in Sight

Video: Adam Housley's report from the "Esperanza Fire"

10/27/06, 2:30pm PT

The wind just won't stop. We have taken refuge in our SUV. The wind whistles, and the car shakes. We are parked next to Highway 79, and in the distance, a rusty brown mushroom cloud builds and blankets the sky. To the north, the sky is a brilliant clear blue, and to the south, the same look. The Santa Ana winds are keeping the smoke in a consistent stripe along the Inland Empire of Southern California.

I can see spot fires beginning, little plumes of smoke that, from our location, look like someone is using their chimney. But that could only be my hope, as this smoke has come from burning embers that have been blown ahead of this Esperanza fire.

Fire trucks and big rigs pulling bulldozers pass by. We see some aerial support, helicopters and tankers, but the gusting winds make it too difficult to help from above.

10/27/06, 1:00 p.m. PT

The California Department of Forestry has a plane in the sky right now, taking digital images to get a grasp on the size and scope of this fire. We are going with the information firefighters have told us. Sometimes the numbers differ a bit from the press releases, but that information usually comes a bit late anyway.

In excess of 30,000 acres have burned and approximately 2,000 firefighters are on the scene. Right now, the fire is only five percent contained, and the mushroom cloud over California's Inland Empire continues to build.

Winds in some areas seem to be gusting worse than yesterday. Highway 79 is being used as a 70-foot wide firebreak on the leading/western edge of this fire, and right now it is holding. But it is a tough fight.

10/27/06, 10:08 a.m. PT

I have covered wildfires for eight years — I've even gone through wildfire training with the California Department of Forestry. But this fire, this so-called "Esperanza Fire," looks to be the most challenging and dangerous I have ever seen.

We got the call at about 6:30 a.m. PT Thursday morning, and over the course of the past day the fire has exploded from two to more than 25,000 acres. The terrain here is rugged and jagged, and the winds are unforgiving and constantly gusting to 60 miles per hour. Humidity is low, and according to the CDF, there have been no recorded major fires in much of this area, which means fuels are thick.

As we made our way up Highway 243, we moved from a newly black and charred desert land into a wall of smoke and flying embers. Flames shot across the roadway, devouring everything in sight. We saw homes, barns, and even small animals on fire. Firefighters are doing what they can, but in some places they have to just stand and watch. They are witnesses to a battle they cannot enter, especially now knowing four of their own have been lost, and a fifth clings to life.

Today, as we drive into the fire area, heading east from Los Angeles towards Palm Springs, we can see a bank of smoke for miles on end. I feel like we are driving into a chimney, and the smoke chokes me at times. People along the freeway stop, take pictures and look with bewilderment and concern. Fire engines race by and air tankers echo above — all along the winds just don't stop.

Click here for Adam Housley's full bio.

Adam Housley joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.