On Monday afternoon, Lon Paul saw fire about seven miles from his Mountain Center home and felt the wind blowing east.

"I had a bad feeling about it," Paul said. "Before we had a chance to do much, start to load up some things from the home, start to load up a few things from my business ... the fire was here."

Authorities said the Mountain fire started at 1:43 p.m. Monday near the intersection of state highways 243 and 74. It has since burned through at least 22,800 acres and several homes near Idyllwild and remains only 15% contained as of Thursday morning.

Fire officials noted the blaze's behavior as "rapid fire spread through timber and chaparral," and said it was currently burning east of the Apple Canyon and Mountain Center areas.

And it's unclear if the weather forecast for the next couple of days will help or hurt the cause.

"It's going to be really dry today," said Stephen Harrison, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

There would be red flag fire conditions where the firefighters are battling the blaze but for the light wind, he said. It's going to be hot, and humidity will be in the single digits.

Near Idyllwild, temperatures are expected to stay in the 90s through Friday before cooling off. More moisture and possibly rain could help firefighters, but that also means thunderstorms.

"It's kind of good news, bad news," Harrison said, adding that winds were expected to shift on Sunday.

Paul, 53, saw that rapid spread first-hand. On the stretch of Bonita Vista Road, where he lives and had a building for his business and where his mother owns property, he saw firefighters defend some of the homes, while others were lost.

"The firefighters were in the yards of the homes ... firefighters literally parked in my yard and saved my residence with no damage at all," Paul said.

However, he said, "my business was burnt to the ground" and "the three homes around my mother's residence all were burnt to the ground."

"Those firefighters saved my mom's house and mine," Paul said.

Evacuation orders affected some 6,000 people in the area, including 71-year-old Barbara Lundquist, who has lived in Idyllwild for two decades. Even though she's been through an evacuation before, she said "this one was scarier."

A neighbor across the street told Lundquist to leave about 5 p.m. Wednesday, and she quickly grabbed her cat "Doodlebug," laptop computer, guitar and coffee and drove away in her 1969 Volkswagen bus.

She said she parked near the Perris Reservoir and is worried about her home.

"Yeah, I'm sleeping in the van, no place else," Lundquist said.

She dug through her cooler to see what remained and then proclaimed: "And I've got Top Ramen, yeah!"

But not everyone was willing to leave.

At the Mile High Country Inn, owner Mary Zachar said simply that while the town evacuated she stayed.

"I stayed. I stayed the last time. It's very difficult for an older person to just get in a car and go," she said. "I'm only five blocks from the fire station and they know I'm here."

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com