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Fire Spreads in Area Near Palm Springs

Times Staff Writer

A wildfire in the mountains northwest of Palm Springs burned 4,980 acres of steep, grassy terrain, prompting a call for a voluntary evacuation of 150 residences that was later lifted, officials said Sunday.

The fire started when hikers tried to light a campfire, and spread quickly in Blaisdell Canyon Friday night, fueled by wind and dry, crunchy grasses left over from an unusually wet spring, officials said.

On Sunday, authorities doubled the number of firefighters to 700 as crews battled steep terrain and 100-degree temperatures to try to contain the fire.

“This is a great indicator of how much the extra grass has contributed to the fire danger and how cautious people need to be,” said Ruth Wenstrom, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino National Forest. “In most years, it would burn up to the rocks and stop. This year is different.”

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By late Sunday afternoon, only 5% of the fire was contained. Officials said the rocky terrain might help slow the blaze, but unpredictable winds could change the fire’s path.

A voluntary evacuation notice was lifted late Sunday for residents of 100 mobile homes and 50 houses near the intersection of Overture Drive and Highway 111, at the base of the mountains west of Palm Springs.

“The concern is that it could bump back down the canyon. We are a long ways from having the fire lines in,” Wenstrom said.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which takes passengers 8,000 feet above the desert floor in a neighboring canyon, was closed Saturday afternoon as a precaution and will remain closed until the fire is contained, said tram spokeswoman Nancy Nichols.

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The last fire to threaten the tram, which has operated since 1963, was in the early 1980s, when flames spared the tram but contributed to mudslides that buried the attraction’s parking lots, Nichols said.

Wilderness areas in Mt. San Jacinto State Park, just west of the fire, were evacuated Saturday and will stay closed until further notice, a park official said.

In Northern California, residents of the Tehama County town of Manton began returning to their homes Sunday after a blaze there injured three people and destroyed 30 structures.

The fire burned about 1,800 acres and was 60% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

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Department spokeswoman Sandra Hayes said firefighters believe the blaze was sparked by a vehicle in a dry, grassy area, but they could not pinpoint the exact cause.

An investigation was continuing.

The blaze was expected to be fully contained by Tuesday morning.

Elsewhere, fire crews expected 90% containment by Sunday night of a 2,200-acre wildfire in the Tahoe National Forest.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.


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