SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Twisted metal gates and rusted mailboxes remained where houses once stood. Flames had turned a lot full of cars – including some vintage models – into a junkyard of hollowed-out shells. Countless trees were scorched or gone.

Scenes of destruction were everywhere Thursday after a huge wildfire sped through mountains and high desert 60 miles east of Los Angeles so swiftly that it took seasoned firefighters off guard.

An aerial flyover revealed significant property loss, but crews were just beginning to comb through the rubble to document the devastation.

“Most of the areas where there was structural damage, they’re still smoldering,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jake Rodriguez said.

Many residents remained in limbo, unable to go home and wondering whether anything would be left when they can.

“I want it to be over, but more than anything I just want to know, ‘Is my house still there?”‘ Lisa Gregory said as she sat in a lawn chair under a tree at an evacuation center.

The fire has blackened more than 49 square miles and was just 4 percent contained since erupting Tuesday in hot, gusty conditions and spreading with extraordinary speed. At its height, more than 34,000 homes and some 82,000 residents were under evacuation warnings.

On Thursday, the fire was no longer spreading as quickly as it had earlier in the week, but heavy flames still burned in thick vegetation on hillsides in Cajon Pass. During five years of drought, California’s wildlands have seen a continuous streak of destructive and sometimes deadly fires.

Meanwhile, Damin Pashilk is charged with 14 counts of arson in connection with 12 separate fires dating back to July 2015 and one count of attempted arson. The 40-year-old construction worker appeared in court but did not enter a plea.

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