Marine aircraft fighting Southern California fire

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SoCal Wildfires

(AP Image)

(AP) – The Marines sent in helicopters Wednesday to help battle wildfires threatening hundreds of homes in Southern California’s rugged backcountry.

Eight CH-53 Super Stallions and CH-46 Sea Knights from nearby bases were sent to ferry firefighters and dump water on blazes threatening about 180 homes in rural northeastern San Diego County, state fire officials said. A National Guard C-130 was on standby, ready to dump thousands of gallons of fire retardant if needed.

A complex of five wildfires caused by lightning had burned more than 14{ square miles of wilderness and was only 5 percent contained, state fire Capt. Mike Mohler said. He noted an earlier estimate of 15 percent was incorrect.

Evacuation orders were issued for the communities of Ranchita and Santa Fe, covering about 180 homes and 400 residents.

“The fire’s within a mile or a half-mile of the homes as we speak,” Mohler said Wednesday afternoon. The flames were burning away from the homes, but that could change suddenly, he said.

The two largest and most active fires were above the desert floor in an area subject to erratic winds. Forecasts called for a return of monsoonal moisture that could create thunderstorms with even more erratic winds Thursday, Mohler said.

“Those winds could do a 180 within 20 minutes,” he said.

More than 1,400 firefighters and numerous aircraft were on the scene, trying to carve dozens of miles of fireline and douse flames while the dry, relatively calm weather prevailed, Mohler said. They were hampered by rugged terrain and the distance from roads, he said.

Meanwhile, a 4-square-mile blaze in the foothills of Riverside County’s San Jacinto Mountains threatened 47 homes and was 15 percent contained. It didn’t move much overnight, authorities said.

The fire near the community of Aguanga, east of Temecula, had burned four structures, including at least one home.

A resident living in a trailer was seriously burned and a second resident received lesser injuries after the fire broke out Tuesday, authorities said. Two firefighters received minor injuries.

Elsewhere in Southern California, a 273-acre wildfire caused by lightning in Joshua Tree National Park was 60 percent contained.

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