IDYLLWILD (CBSLA.com) — A wildfire in the Riverside County mountains has grown to 22,800 acres and remained 15 percent contained Thursday evening as officials declared it a local emergency.
Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, a chief for the U.S. Forest Service, said during an afternoon briefing the wildfire was “human caused” but was still under investigation.
An estimated 6,000 residents and visitors have been forced to evacuate surrounding areas but Pincha-Tulley said that efforts to keep the blaze away from heavily populated regions were going well.
“We are putting in place a strategy to work our way east… to contain the fire,” she said.
The Mountain Fire, which broke out around 1:45 p.m. Monday, is burning through chaparral and timber in extremely difficult terrain, the USFS said.
“The most active parts of the fire are near Red Tahquitz Peak above the community of Idyllwild and near the community of Trails End to the south,” officials said in a statement. “These two areas will be the focus of today’s firefighting activities as both air and ground crews work to slow the rate of spread of the fire.”
Evacuations ordered Wednesday night for the Idyllwild and Fern Valley area remain in place.
Mandatory evacuation orders were also still in effect for the Andreas Canyon Club, south of Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, and for Bonita Vista, Pine Springs and the Zen Mountain Center off of Apple Canyon Road, authorities said.
Camp Ronald McDonald and Camp Joe Sherman were voluntarily evacuated due to health concerns related to air quality.
The American Red Cross has established evacuation centers at the following locations:
- Hemet High School, 41701 E. Stetson Avenue
- Hamilton High School, 57430 Mitchell Road in Anza
- Beaumont High School, 39139 Cherry Valley Boulevard
Small animals can be brought to an animal evacuation site set up at San Jacinto Animal Shelter, 581 S. Grand Avenue, officials said. Large and small animals can be taken to Lake Hemet Campground in Garner Valley.
Road closures are as follows:
- Closures have been lifted for Highway 74. Fire crews and apparatus will still be working in the area and officials advise to proceed with care
- Highway 243 is under a hard closure south of Pine Cove at the Nature Center to the junction of Highway 74
- There are no longer road restrictions from Banning into Pine Cove
The Mountain Fire has destroyed 23 structures, including seven residences on Monday.
A total of 3,316 personnel, including 263 engines, 19 helicopters, 10 fixed wing aircraft, 53 hand-crews, 30 water-tenders and 15 dozers were on scene to help battle the blaze.
Despite Riverside County officials declaring a local emergency Thursday, some residents are reluctant to leave.
Sheriff’s officers went door-to-door in Idyllwild and Fern Valley to notify people who hadn’t yet left of the evacuation orders in place.
Russell Smith told CBS2/KCAL9′s Jeff Nguyen he chose to stay at his cabin, but his SUV is packed and it’s parked facing the street in case he needs to make a quick getaway.
“I’ve got plenty of gas if I come down the hill,” he said.
Wilber Jobell isn’t taking any chances.
“Right now we’re starting to move out. Out of town. I think the fire is coming this way,” Jobell said.
Robert and Diana Desrosiers are choosing to ride things out but said their car is packed with their prized possessions in case they need to run.
“If it happens – and we lose everything – well that’s the way it goes. I’m not going to sweat it,” Diana Desrosiers said.
The concern right now is over dangerous columns of smoke that can carry embers.
Some Palm Springs residents have fled amid concerns the air quality has reached unhealthy levels as the fire burns just two miles away.
An air quality alert is in place, meaning people with breathing problems could be in danger.
“People are just going, ‘It’s just really too hard to breathe.’ We have a lot of asthmatic people, because they move here,” Palm Springs resident Bill Buxton told Adrianna Weingold.
The Palm Springs aerial tramway and parks are closed.
Some hotels are offering discounted rates for the thousands of evacuees from the Idyllwild area.
“A few people have left town, you know, if the air is bothering them. It’s a good time to leave for a couple of days and then come back. But mostly, there has been a concern and worry for the town right up the hill that is in danger right now,” Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism spokesperson Mary Jo Ginther said.
Fire officials say the chances of the fire coming over the mountains and into Palm Springs are slim.
It has cost $5.5 million to fight the fire to date. Riverside County could be eligible for disaster funds if state and federal officials make funds available, a county spokesman said Thursday.
Three firefighters have been treated for minor injuries.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Those interested in helping with relief efforts can visit the American Red Cross website to make a financial contribution towards disaster relief or to get information on how to volunteer.
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)