Arson suspected in blazes
IDYLLWILD, Calif. — Fire stoked by hot and windy weather raged through a forest in far northern California on Thursday. In mountain communities east of Los Angeles, calmer conditions aided firefighters on the lines of a suspected arson wildfire that forced thousands of people to flee.
California Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday issued emergency proclamations in both Riverside County in the south and Shasta County in the north. The declarations authorize the state to rally resources to local government.
In the north, new evacuations were ordered for communities in the wilderness recreation region near Whiskeytown Lake as that wildfire tripled in size to more than 31 square miles.
French Gulch resident Raquel Hines said she had two hours to evacuate and that others in the former mining town had as little as 30 minutes to leave.
The community has faced two wildfires in the last two weeks, Hines said.
Cal Fire Unit Chief Mike Hebrard told the Record Searchlight newspaper that the blaze made a huge push overnight and that engine crews were in the community of Old Shasta trying to save structures.
Hundreds of miles to the south, winds were absent over the fire in Southern California’s San Jacinto Mountains. But temperatures were rapidly rising, and forecasters said highs could hit 100 degrees . They also warned of possible afternoon wind gusts that could create dangerous fire conditions.
Elsewhere in the state, a huge forest fire continued to grow outside Yosemite National Park. A total of 100 homes were still considered under threat in the San Francisco Bay community of Clayton, although firefighters had stopped the progress of a small fire there after one house burned.
The blaze in the San Jacinto Mountains erupted Wednesday and quickly turned into a wall of flame that torched timber and tinder-dry brush.
About 3,200 people in the town of Idyllwild and nearby communities were ordered to evacuate. An estimated 600 homes were threatened.
The fire was the largest of at least five that police believe were purposely set Wednesday by a man whose car was reportedly spotted at the starting point of the blaze in Riverside County, officials said.
Brandon N. McGlover, 32, of Temecula was booked on suspicion of five counts of arson, state fire officials said.
Authorities ordered residents to leave Idyllwild and several neighboring communities, home to about 12,000 people.
William Blodgett of Idyllwild said he couldn’t get home because of the fire and had to wait along with others at a gas station in nearby Mountain Center — until the fire hopped a highway and began to move in his direction.
“We were all peeling out of there as fast as we could,” he told KNBC-TV. “It was apocalyptic.”
Throughout the day, helicopters and planes dumped water and fire retardant that turned swathes of land and homes pink. Fire engines also were stationed to protect homes.