Winds fueling California wildfires
William M. Welch, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES (USA TODAY)
- A fast-moving wildfire was roaring through Southern California's San Jacinto Mountains on Thursday after burning homes, forcing evacuation of more than 1,500 people and injuring three people.
The fire had burned an estimated 6,000 acres -- or more than 9 square miles -- in Riverside County west of Palm Springs, said Lucas Spelman, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The fire was uncontained, and smoke from burning chaparral and other brush choked the air in Palm Springs, the desert resort town about 20 miles to the east.
Three people were injured. One civilian was burned and airlifted to a hospital, U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller said. Two firefighters were also injured, but details were unavailable, he said.
About 800 people evacuated the Silent Valley Club, a private RV resort, Spelman said Thursday. About 700 more were under evacuation order in the rural communities of Poppet Flats, Twin Pines, Edna Valley and Vista Grande. An evacuation center was established at high schools in the towns of Hemet and Banning.
Another state fire spokesperson, Julie Hutchinson, said the wildfire near Banning had blocked the highway escape route of some residents who were told to shelter in place late Wednesday. Deputies who had tried to help them evacuate also were forced to remain.
Fire officials said that 15 structures burned, but they could not say how many were homes. One man, Dave Clark of the Twin Pines community, watched as his house was consumed by flames while the homes of nearby neighbors were spared. Video images from TV news helicopters showed several structures burning.
State Highway 243, which connects the city of Banning on the desert floor with nearby mountain communities, was closed. The fire was in dry, hilly terrain about 85 miles east of Los Angeles.
More than 500 firefighters were on the scene, along with more than 70 fire engines, four air tankers and five helicopters. Fire officials named the blaze the Silver Fire.
Palm Springs officials said its residents were in no immediate danger, but that the smoke had affected visibility at Palm Springs International Airport, delaying flights into and out of the Coachella Valley on Wednesday.