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In Idyllwild, anxious residents keep a wary eye on the Cranston fire

Cranston fire near Idyllwild
Hand crews march to fight the Cranston fire raging along Highway 74 in Mountain Center.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Apart from the roar of a few generators keeping a handful of local businesses open, largely to serve firefighters but also residents who were waiting out evacuating, Friday morning was quiet in Idyllwild.

Outside the Chevron Idyllwild Garage, Rick Holmes, 73, mounted his motorcycle, alongside his 7-year-old yellow Labrador mix Charlee, pre-napping in a red sidecar, ready to go home.

Usually in the mornings, Holmes, who has lived in Idyllwild for 42 years, and Charlee are on the nearby mountain bike trails. On Friday, they had instead stopped to get gas for Holmes’ generator.

Holmes has been through wildfires before — and was cautioning other residents at the gas station that, although the Cranston fire looked like it had died down a lot, the mornings are always calmer. It’s when the wind starts to kick up, and the temperatures start to rise, that firefighters start to face a more challenging opponent.

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The fire had burned more than 11,000 acres as of Friday morning and was 3% contained. Officials were still trying to assess how many homes had been lost.

Holmes watched Friday morning as small tufts of smoke rose on the south ridge of the San Jacinto Mountains near Idyllwild.

Man charged with starting 11,500-acre Cranston fire and eight others in Riverside County »

On Thursday, the fire burned through a valley behind the south ridge, but it still remained too close for comfort for Holmes.

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“This one — they’re having more trouble with it,” the retired schoolteacher said. “People don’t realize we’re still in dire straights. It still could be real, real bad.”

Fed by dry fuel on steep slopes, the fire headed into Apple Canyon and Bonita Vista and new evacuations were announced for McCall Park, south of Pine Wood, Cedar Glen, Pine Cove and Fern Valley.

Steve and Suzanne Coffer were on their way to San Diego to hit the casinos when approaching flames made them return home to hurriedly pack up their belongings. They spent the night with their cat in their car, parked near a church.

When they saw their house again, it was coated in retardant. The mess was no matter for Coffer, who had moved to Idyllwild 40 years ago, yearning for a place far from the city.

The elation at finding his home still standing was difficult for him to express.

“I can’t put it into words,” he said.

Many residents were without power, including Ruth Kleefisch, 52, who drove from her home in Pine Cove to Idyllwild in an attempt to charge her cellphone and try to get reception.

Kleefisch’s husband has liver cancer and has been unable to eat for the past four days. She was desperate to reach his doctor to ask what she could do to ease her husband’s nausea.

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She said she was less concerned about the fire, which hadn’t reached Pine Cove, and more concerned about being without power, especially if it lasted more than a few days.

“The neighborhood’s quiet, everything is quiet. There’s nobody here. Once all the tourists leave, there’s not that many left of us, really.”


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