Las Vegas band survives Cajon Pass fire, towing bill

LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) -- Getting caught in the Cajon Pass fire on Friday was a terrifying experience for the drummer of the popular Las Vegas-based country band.

Michael Angelo, drummer for the Tony Marques band, was in his 2013 Ford Escape on Friday afternoon headed southbound on Interstate 15 when a wildfire jumped all lanes of the freeway.

Twenty vehicles, including two big rigs, caught fire. Another 10 were damaged. In just a few hours the fire charred 3,500 acres of desert. Nearly 200 vehicles had been caught in the pass when the wind-whipped fire spread rapidly.

The fire eventually spread to a nearby residential/farming area and another 44 cars, three homes and eight outbuildings were lost. The firefighting crew of 1,000 was aided Saturday when storms moved in off the coast. As of 7 p.m. Saturday the fire had burned about 5,400 acres was 45 percent contained.

"I've never been in something like that," Angelo told News 3 on Saturday morning, shortly after waking up. "It was pretty scary being just a few hundred feet from the fire and when people started fleeing their cars I figured I might as well go. The weirdest part is nobody told us anything and soon helicopters were dropping water and we just had to figure out what to do."

"That's what I get for leaving early, I guess" he said, explaining that he left about 90 minutes ahead of other band members for what was supposed to be a two-night gig at a Toby Keith bar in Rancho Cucamonga.

He had about $5,000 work of band equipment in the Escape and much feared for the worst.

"The California Highway Patrol told me that my car had been burned," he said. "But the towing company said it was driveable. I haven't seen it. I plan to eat breakfast and then go to Gonzales Towing in Victorville about 30 minutes from here to try and see it. I have a $1,600 bill for the towing and that the CHP tells me is pretty much extortion."

Luck was on Vattima's side -- sort of.

"The car was untouched," he said later in the day. "The towing people said they had been getting a lot of negative feedback from the Las Vegas media about the prices so they dropped it to $500. I still think that's high, but the insurance company will cover it."

None of the band members were injured in the fire that all involved will likely remember for a long time.

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