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Resort Area Threatened By Wildfire

Tue., July 2, 1996

An estimated 1,000 firefighters mounted an air and ground assault to protect a Southern California mountain resort from flames crackling through the dry brush Monday.

Nineteen aircraft bombarded the flames with water and fire retardant. On the ground, firefighters working in temperatures over 100 degrees cut down vegetation to try to halt the fire, which had advanced to within two miles of Idyllwild.

About 4,000 people live in Idyllwild along ridges of the San Jacinto Mountains, and visitors stay in lodges, cabins and camps.

No structures were burned. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries.

The 7,600-acre fire 80 miles east of Los Angeles was reported to be 30 percent contained. The fire was ignited Saturday by a ricocheting bullet fired by a target shooter.

Firefighters concentrated on a three-mile stretch that hadn’t burned for a half-century.

Authorities recommended 800 residents evacuate. Hundreds fled, most heading to friends’ homes instead of a Red Cross evacuation center.

“They’re scared, real scared,” said longtime resident Dian Dial, coordinator for the evacuation center.

Others stayed put.

“We can’t see any flames or anything,” said Ben Ackley, 47, who packed his car “just in case.”

Cheryl Carson packed her car trunk and watched firefighters from a ridge. She said she was “very concerned, but I feel confident with all the crews that are out there now.”

One grateful family on twisting Highway 74 in the fire area stretched out a hand-lettered sign reading, “God bless you firefighters.”

The Riverside County wildfire was the most dangerous of more than a dozen that have burned nearly 70,000 acres in Arizona, California and Utah in past weeks.

The largest blaze was Arizona’s 49,000-acre fire in a remote area of Ponderosa pine and oak north of the Grand Canyon. The fire was 60 percent contained late Monday.

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