Crews Fight Mountain Wildfire From Above

Times Staff Writer

Water-dumping helicopters drenched flames in the steep, treacherous terrain northwest of Palm Springs on Monday as more than 700 firefighters struggled to contain a wildfire that had burned 5,198 acres.

The blaze started Friday night apparently when a campfire set by hikers spread through the San Jacinto Wilderness Area. The fire, which is 45% contained, is burning in a remote area and no homes are threatened, Riverside County Fire Capt. Julie Hutchinson said.

A cluster of mobile homes and small residences was placed under voluntary evacuation until Sunday afternoon around the Western Village area near Highway 111 and Overture Drive, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kathy Ungemach said.

Ten helicopters and 28 crews battled the fire Monday in the triple-digit heat. In some of the rugged areas, the only way to establish a line of containment was by dropping water from the air.


“The fire is burning in such rough terrain that we’re being extra cautious with the troops,” Hutchinson said. “The terrain is too inaccessible to get a line around [the fire] quickly, but the helicopters are hitting it heavy.”

U.S. Forest Service officials cited the three hikers -- Brandon Smith, Philip DiPerna and Er Amtolovic -- on misdemeanor charges of allowing a fire to escape.

“The fire damage, the cost of fighting the fire and the stress to the public are all part of the damage that has been done,” Hutchinson said. “Hikers need to think responsibly, or they’ll be held responsible for their actions.”