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More than 6,000 residents and tourists have been evacuated from a community in the San Jacinto Mountains, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles and only two miles from Palm Springs, as a massive wildfire burns over 35 square miles.
The blaze has destroyed seven homes and cabins, as fire crews carve fire lines around Idyllwild — an artist community and hiking destination — to block flames which have have been shooting up to 100 feet into the air.
Officials estimate that 4,100 homes, hotels, condos and cabins are currently threatened.
The blaze is approximately 15 percent contained, but continuing spikes in daytime temperatures are further hampering efforts to put out the blaze.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW. In Southern California, more than 6,000 people have evacuated from the Idyllwild community, in the mountains outside Palm Springs, as a massive blaze continues to burn over 35 square miles. After five days, it is only 15 percent contained. National Fire Service officials say 2013 is on track to surpass 2012 as the worst wildfire season on record. Sheldon Keafer of the National Forest Service, joins us from the fire command center in California. And, Sheldon, how is this blaze being fought?
SHELDON KEAFER: A lot of it is being fought with aircraft so they're using retardant and water to stop it in the rough country, and they're putting a lot of their effort with the crews where they can actually get them located. A lot of the engines are being stationed around the areas that have structures for protection if the fire happens to get there. So the community of Idyllwild is the main area of concern right now. There are a couple other smaller subdivisions around the fire that have been evacuated, too, but that's the largest evacuation.
HOBSON: And we've heard reports of ash raining down on Palm Springs.
KEAFER: Yeah. And that just depends on which way the wind is going. At this particular time, we're not too concerned with what the fire is doing in that general area.
HOBSON: Now, this fire, Sheldon, comes just a couple of weeks after the Yarnell Fire in Arizona which killed 19 firefighters. Is it being fought differently as a result of that? Are they trying to be a little less risky with how they're fighting it?
KEAFER: You know, that's entirely up to the incident commander, but safety is always the number one concern. And any lessons that they learned from the Yarnell Hill Fire, they're going to put it into effect here to make sure what happened doesn't happen on this fire.
HOBSON: Is that fire on people's minds today?
KEAFER: Well, I'm sure that it is, especially on the crews that are out working.
HOBSON: How's the weather playing into the spread of this fire?
KEAFER: We are expecting some changes in the weather over the weekend. In particular, there's some thunderstorm cells that might move over. And with those cells, you can get erratic winds on the fire area. And so it's hard to predict what the fire might do.
HOBSON: Yeah. It's the ups and downs of thunderstorms in fighting a fire. I guess you've got the potential of rain but also the potential of lightning, which could start more fires.
KEAFER: Right. And at this point, the weekend thunder cells that are coming through aren't predicted to have much moisture in them. It's not until Monday that there might be any significant rain.
HOBSON: Well, hopefully, there will be some. Sheldon Keafer with the National Forest Service, thanks so much for talking with us.
KEAFER: You're welcome, Jeremy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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