Mountain Fire burns 22,800 acres, thousands evacuated


The flames have reached within a few miles of the Palm Springs city limits. But the artist community of Idyllwild faces the biggest threat. Thousands in Idyllwild and other nearby communities have been evacuated.

The fire, which started Monday in Mountain Center near the 243 and 74 highways, is 15 percent contained.

The weather was hot and dry again on Thursday, but crews planned to take advantage of the cooler nighttime temperatures. Authorities say the most active parts of the fire are near Red Tahquitz Peak above Idyllwild and near Trails End to the south.

"I'm just kind of hoping the mountain doesn't burn up," said Molly Porteous of Fern Valley. "I was here during the Esperanza Fire, and that was scarier because I was younger, but it didn't get as close as this one did."

More than 4,100 homes are threatened by the fire, and most residents are heeding evacuation orders. Deputies went door to door, making sure everyone knew about the evacuation orders.

"I had everything already loaded in the car," said Janice Wasmer of Pine Grove.

An estimated 6,000 people have already left the area. Yellow tags mark which homes and businesses were evacuated. But not everyone is heeding the mandatory evacuation orders. David Dylan and Allen Simmons were two residents who said they were staying home -- for now.

"Everybody's got to do what they think is best," Simmons said as he watered his property. "If it gets to the point where we have to go, I'm going."

"As soon as I see a flame on South Ridge, I see them dropping, I'm out of here," Dylan said.

Twenty-three structures have been destroyed, including seven homes. Fire officials said three mobile homes and three other residences were destroyed in Bonita Vista. In Pine Springs, one commercial building, a workshop, garage and cabin were destroyed. Eleven outbuildings and several vehicles also were destroyed.

The blaze is sending up a 20,000- to 30,000-foot column of smoke and ash, which has fire officials worried.

"When you get a column that puts out this much smoke, embers get into the column and can drop anywhere. For the next two days, it's predicted to go right over the top of this town," said Jeanne Pincha-Tulley with the U.S. Forest Service.

The exact cause of the wildfire has not been determined. The U.S. Forest Service is investigating, but believes the fire is "human caused."

More than 3,000 fire personnel are battling the wildfire. The cost of the firefighting efforts is estimated at $6.1 million.

Evacuation orders

Evacuation orders are in effect for residents in Idyllwild, Fern Valley and Trail Ends, the Andreas Canyon Club, south of Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, Pine Springs and the Zen Mountain Center off of Apple Canyon Road.

Camp Ronald McDonald and Camp Joe Sherman have been voluntarily evacuated due to health concerns related to air quality.

Residents have been allowed to return to the Apple Canyon and Bonita Vista areas because the fire threat to those areas have diminished.

Evacuation centers for residents and animals have been set up:

-Hemet High School, located at 41701 East Stetson Avenue in Hemet

-Hamilton High School, located at 57430 Mitchell Road in Anza

-Beaumont High School, located at 39139 Cherry Valley Boulevard in Beaumont

-San Jacinto Animal Shelter, located at 581 South Grand Avenue in San Jacinto

-Beaumont Civic Center (small animals), located at 550 E. 6th Street in Beaumont

Evacuated residents are encouraged to check in with the Red Cross in Anza at Hamilton High School so the Red Cross can help them with any needs.

Officials said seven people spent the night at Hamilton High School, more than 800 spent the night at Hemet High School, and 116 stayed overnight at Beaumont High School.

Road closures

A hard closure remains in place on Highway 243 south of Pine Cove, from the Nature Center to the intersection of Highway 243 and Highway 74.

Fire officials said as of Thursday evening, Highway 74 was open to traffic.

The Pacific Crest Trail is closed from Highway 74 north to Saddle Junction. All of the trails connection to the Pacific Crest Trail are closed as well, including South Ridge Trail, Carumba Trail, Spitler Peak Trail, Fobes Trail and Cedar Springs. Hurkey Creek County Camground, and all of the hiking and mountain biking trails out of Hurkey creek and May Valley are closed.

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