The Silver fire in Riverside County continued to advance overnight, growing to 16,000 acres, officials reported Friday.
More than 1,400 firefighters, meanwhile, had achieved 25% containment as better weather conditions were poised to turn in their favor.
“The best news is that the wind will be a little lighter,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Brandt Maxwell. “Conditions will improve somewhat. The only question is if winds will change directions. That might give them kind of a curveball.”
The wind is expected to shift north, pushing the flames into the flat lands and away from the steep hillsides that have hindered efforts to slow the fire’s pace. Temperatures are expected to stay in the 90s.
John Hawkins, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection chief in Riverside County, described the Silver fire as “one of the most rapidly spreading … dangerous fires that I have seen” in 50 years with the agency.
The blaze is the latest sign that 2013 is shaping up to be a particularly damaging wildfire season.
Record dry conditions have left hillsides and canyons like the ones south of Banning particularly susceptible to big burns. Roughly 80,000 acres across the state have burned so far this year, according to CalFire, about double last year’s total at this time.
The area near Banning, Palm Springs and Idyllwild has been especially hard-hit. State officials noted that several fires in that area have now burned with great intensity ahead of the fall, when Santa Ana winds typically cause the most concern about uncontrolled blazes.
“The intensity isn’t being caused by winds, they’re caused by fuel,” said CalFire Deputy Director Janet Upton, referring to the dried-out vegetation. “They’re causing fire behavior to be extreme.”
When the blaze began about 2 p.m. Wednesday, the stage was set for explosive growth. It pushed rapidly over steep terrain, outbuildings, homes and vehicles, whipped along by the strong and steady winds common to the region.
“It grew up to 5,000 acres in the first four hours. That’s a huge, huge growth,” said CalFire spokesman Lucas Spelman. “I’m not sure 1,000 fire engines would have put the fire out yesterday.”
For about three hours, the blaze’s fury brought back haunting memories of the 2006 Esperanza fire, which consumed 40,200 acres and killed five firefighters in the same area.
The Silver fire has seriously burned one civilian and injured at least five firefighters. One business and 26 homes have also burned.