As a 23,000-acre wildfire in Riverside County approaches within two miles of Palm Springs, and 6000 people have been forced to flee from their homes, it has become the top priority of the U.S. Forest Service, according to officials on Thursday.
“We are the national priority right now,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jeanne Pincha-Tulley told reporters Thursday.
The fire is bumping up against the mountain resort town of Idyllwild. firefighters are holding their own there, but they’ve ordered the evacuation of the entire town.
The “Mountain Fire,” as it’s come to be known, blazed up on Monday afternoon about 100 miles (161 km) east of Los Angeles in the scenic San Jacinto Mountains that overlook Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and several other smaller desert towns.
“The town of Idyllwild is still the main concern at this point,” according to Carol Underhill, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.
The Mountain Fire started at 1:43 p.m. Monday near the intersection of state highways 243 and 74. In the words of U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jeanne Pincha-Tulley at a news conference Thursday, “it seems like several years ago now with everything we’ve done.”
The fire has burned through at least 22,800 acres and several homes near Idyllwild and remains only 15% contained. Six homes have been destroyed and firefighters were preparing for another long, hot night in the San Bernardino National Forest. There have been no fatalities reported so far.
The skies above the communities around Idyllwild have been darkened by plumes of smoke which have climbed thousands of feet into the sky, raining embers down upon unburned areas of wilderness, spreading the blaze further.
Pincha-Tulley said that firefighters are working in the blaze’s wake, putting out hot spots and creating fire lines so it can’t turn back on itself.
“Embers can drop anywhere,” she said.
The National Guard, according to sate officials, has mobilized two C-130J aircraft to help battle the flames. The massive military aircraft is capable of dropping 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant at a time.
Fire officials have described the blaze’s behavior as being a “rapid fire spread through timber and chaparral.” They said it was currently burning east of the Apple Canyon and Mountain Center areas.
The weather forecast for the next couple of days presents a mixed bag of hot temperatures with a chance for thunderstorms this weekend, making it unclear if it will help or hurt the cause.
National Weather Service meteorologist Stephen Harrison said that “It’s kind of good news, bad news,” adding that winds were expected to shift Sunday.
So far, the evacuation orders caused by the Mountain Fire nearing Palm Springs have affected about 6,000 people in the area, from Idyllwild and Fern Valley to Bonita Vista, Trails End and Apple Canyon, forcing them to evacuate their homes.
Written by: Douglas Cobb