SoCal wildfire forces more evacuations

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Helicopter crews work the Mountain Fire as it burns in the wilderness near Lake Hemet, Calif. Tuesday, July 17th, 2013. (AP Photo/The Desert Sun, Jay Calderon)

Helicopter crews work the Mountain Fire as it burns in the wilderness near Lake Hemet, Calif. Tuesday, July 17th, 2013. (AP Photo/The Desert Sun, Jay Calderon)

IDYLLWILD, Calif. (AP) — Authorities issued evacuation orders for hundreds of homes Wednesday as a major wildfire approached in the mountains southwest of Palm Springs.

Large parts of the Southern California communities of Idyllwild and Fern Valley were under evacuation orders with an estimated 300 to 400 homes affected, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Carol Jandrall.

Residents were being allowed home to pick up essential items before evacuating, Jandrall said.

About 60 homes were already under evacuation orders and seven have been destroyed or damaged by the wildfire that broke out Monday.

Temperatures were in triple digits in the area and humidity in the single digits, said Tina Rose, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and similar conditions were forecast for the next two days.

“I was here at sun-up, and the fire was burning like it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. That is extreme fire behavior,” Rose said, adding that the area had not burned in many years. “The slightest little spark is going to make a run and torch trees. It’s just so bone dry.”

Idyllwild, known as a mountain vacation destination, also has many year-round residents and is popular with artists. Combined with the smaller surrounding communities of Pine Cove and Fern Valley, it’s home to nearly 4,000 people. About half of the area is under the evacuation order.

The blaze destroyed three houses, damaged another and destroyed three mobile homes, a cabin, a garage and about a half-dozen vehicles, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement Tuesday. Eleven outbuildings, five commercial buildings and several smaller structures also have been lost.

The wildfire started Monday between Palm Springs and Hemet, near the rural Riverside County community of Mountain Center, and grew to 30 square miles by Wednesday. It was burning in thick brush and trees at an elevation of 5,000 to 7,500 feet.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters and 25 aircraft had the blaze about 15 percent contained.

Camp Ronald McDonald, which hosts programs for children with cancer and their families, was also evacuated.

The fire was burning in the San Jacinto Mountains, about 12 miles from the site of the 2006 Esperanza wildfire that killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters and destroyed 34 homes.

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