IDYLLWILD (CBS/AP) — The wildfire that destroyed seven homes and threatened the mountain town of Idyllwild was sluggish after a thunderstorm drenched the timberland and settled over the mountains Monday, threatening to trigger mudslides and flash flooding to the freshly burned areas.
An evacuation warning was issued for the community of Apple Canyon in the Mountain Center area, where several homes and structures were destroyed last week in the Mountain Fire.
The 43-square-mile Mountain Fire above Palm Springs was 68 percent contained, and did not move overnight.
“It’s pretty much in the smoldering category right now,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Lee Beyer said. “There’s no moving fire.”
Thousands of evacuees were allowed back home Sunday as a thunderstorm dumped up to 2 inches of rain on portions of the week-old fire.
The rain was beneficial for dousing flames, but firefighters were pulled off the mountain Monday morning morning as heavy rain, debris and mud made the already steep terrain too dangerous for ground crews. Low visibility also grounded all aerial support.
“There’s many areas where the mud is very deep,” said Glenn Patterson, Cal Fire incident commander. This “makes it difficult for the firefighters to get through; it also makes it difficult for us to get them out if they do get injured.”
About 1,900 firefighters were assigned, down from some 3,300 at the fire’s height, and more will be removed as the fight winds down, Beyer said.
More storms are expected in the next couple of days — and that could prove a mixed blessing, he said.
“Light rains are good, heavy rains create mud flows,” Beyer said. “Thunderstorms obviously have lightning with them. That’s always a safety concern when you have people up on those exposed ridges.”
Crews also must watch out for possible falling burnt trees, he said.
Some 6,000 people fled the idyllic little towns that dot the San Jacinto Mountains between Palm Springs and Hemet after the fire broke out July 15 and quickly raged across the heavily wooded area. Twenty-three structures, including the seven homes, were destroyed. There were no reports of injuries.
Authorities have said the fire was human-caused but wouldn’t say whether it was accidental or intentional.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)