A 23,000-acre wildfire in Riverside County is two miles from Palm Springs, bumping up against Idyllwild, and is the top priority of the U.S. Forest Service, officials said Thursday.
The Mountain fire started at 1:43 p.m. Monday near the intersection of state highways 243 and 74, but "it seems like several years ago now with everything we’ve done,” said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jeanne Pincha-Tulley at a news conference Thursday.
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.
“Right now we’re into the witching hours,” Pincha-Tulley said.
Plumes of smoke have climbed thousands of feet into the sky, darkening the communities around Idyllwild and raining embers on unburned wilderness. Firefighters are working in the blaze’s wake, putting out hot spots and creating fire lines so it can’t turn back on itself, Pincha-Tulley said.
“Embers can drop anywhere,” she said.
State officials announced the National Guard has mobilized two C-130J aircraft to help battle the flames. The massive military aircraft can drop 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant at a time.
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.
It's unclear if the weather forecast for the next couple of days will help or hurt the cause.
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," said National Weather Service meteorologist Stephen Harrison, adding that winds were expected to shift Sunday.
Evacuation orders affected about 6,000 people in the area, from Idyllwild and Fern Valley to Bonita Vista, Trails End and Apple Canyon.