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Mountain fire burns close to resort town; 6,000 evacuated

The massive Mountain fire remained three to four miles away the mountain tourist resort of Idyllwild on Friday, with firefighters struggling to prevent the blaze from hitting the town.

Authorities reported Friday that the fire had burned 24,818 acres and was 15% contained.

More than 6,000 people have been evacuated from the community, and it’s unclear when they can return.

Those living in the Apple Canyon and Bonita Vista areas were permitted to head home Thursday night. Among state highways that were closed, California 74 was reopened to traffic, but a portion of California 243 remained closed.

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PHOTOS: Mountain fire near Idyllwild

The Idyllwild and Fern Valley areas remained under an evacuation notice, as did the San Jacinto Park Wilderness and Trails End Community.

Crews were hoping Thursday to take advantage of cooler nighttime temperatures and rising relative humidity in their efforts to contain the wildfire burning in rugged, steep terrain.

They were being aided by U.S. Forest Service contract helicopters that were making repeated water drops Thursday night, said agency spokesman Sheldon Keafer.

Much of the fire activity has been within the perimeter of the blaze.

The blaze “has been creeping along the edges,” Keafer told The Times.

The fire broke out Monday afternoon as flames raced across dry chaparral, underbrush and trees. Investigators said they believed the blaze was man-made but had not determined a precise cause.

More that 3,300 firefighters were battling the blaze. On Thursday, they were assisted by 19 helicopters and 10 aerial tankers. Three firefighters were treated for minor injuries.

Thick clouds of smoke prompted officials to close the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

On Thursday afternoon, charred rock formations and blackened trees were visible at some spots along the winding roads leading to Idyllwild. Plumes of smoke formed a gray canopy in the sky, darkening the San Jacinto Mountains and raining hot embers.

Residents of communities on the other side of the range, which include Palm Springs and the rest of the Coachella Valley, were keeping a close watch. While officials said the fire was not expected to crest the range and race north into the valley, the popular Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was closed.

Idyllwild, known for its low-key ambience and concentration of free spirits, artists and music lovers, was all but abandoned.

Roughly 6,000 people had been ordered to evacuate an area that includes about 2,200 homes. The evacuation was ordered, Poole said, because of fears the wind might shift and push the blaze into the secluded community.

“It’s always a lot of heartache incurred in an evacuation,” Poole said. “Human life always trumps everything else.”

Many residents ended up at Red Cross shelters at public schools in nearby Anza and Hemet.

Idyllwild “is built around the fact we’re vulnerable to a fire,” said longtime resident Joanna Bruno, 58. She had evacuated to the Hemet High shelter with her two 15-year-old grandchildren.

Bruno and others spoke of their fondness for living in a sparsely developed mountain area where the urban crush of traffic gives way to chirping birds.

But she and others at the shelter said they know such seclusion puts them in a precarious position: They must keep a constant vigil for wildfires and be prepared to leave on short notice.

Once the fire began, Bruno said, she continuously tracked it, listening to a local emergency radio station.

When the call to leave came, her family was ready. They grabbed the packed bags on the kitchen table and left. “I got plan A, plan B and plan C, and plan B panned out,” she said. “This is normal operating procedures.”

Still, not everyone was willing to leave.

A few miles from the shelter, speaking over the phone from a mountain neighborhood that had received evacuation orders, Rick Chaney said he wasn’t about to let fire disrupt his life — or let anyone tell him what to do.

“I don’t feel threatened so I’m not leaving,” said the 61-year-old proprietor of Chaney’s Plumbing.

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rick.rojas@latimes.com


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