July 20, 2013 in Nation/World

Hundreds more flee fire

Weather, winds raise uncertainty in California
Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Smoke from the Mountain Fire fills the sky Friday in Pine Cove, Calif.
(Full-size photo)

IDYLLWILD, Calif. – Residents of another 700 homes were advised to retreat to safety on Friday as crews fighting a wildfire in the mountains above Palm Springs grew increasingly concerned about the possibility of unstable weather and erratic winds that could last through the weekend.

The voluntary departures by people in Pine Cove, on the fire’s western flank, came in addition to mandatory evacuations involving 6,000 others who spent a third day away from home as the fire spread in three directions.

The blaze in the San Jacinto Mountains has expanded to roughly 42 square miles and was 15 percent contained, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kate Kramer said.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the area Friday night, freeing up more state funding and other resources to help with the protracted firefight that has already cost $8.6 million.

Some communities on the eastern edge of the fire were reopened to residents, but about 5,600 homes remained under potential threat.

The fire was less than two miles from Idyllwild on its western flank. It was a similar distance from Palm Springs below on the desert floor, where an enormous plume of smoke could be seen, but the blaze was showing little threat of moving toward the much larger city.

A storm front headed toward the region could provide some relief with cooler weather and a chance of rain, fire spokesman Capt. Mike Lindbery said. But it could also make the situation much more volatile with increased winds, thunderstorms and lightning strikes.

Combined with hot air on the ground, the unstable air could create a strong updraft that draws smoke high into the atmosphere, where moisture could freeze and the weight of the ice could cause the column to collapse, creating a powerful downdraft in all directions, Lindbery said.

Some 3,300 firefighters, aided by nearly 30 aircraft, battled the fire, which stretched in elevation from 4,000 feet to 9,000 feet along the mountains.

The arriving storm front brings a 20 percent chance of rain and 15-24 mph winds, with gusts to 40 mph.

The fire, which began Monday, has burned six homes and mobile homes, one cabin, and more than a dozen other buildings.

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