Mountain Fire Update: Blaze 49 Percent Contained, 42 Square Miles Burned

The following contains updates on the Mountain Fire, including emergency assistance, evacuations, road closures, and damage.

Detail of map, displayed in Pine Cove, showing the Mountain Fire burn area near Idyllwild, Calif., Saturday July 20, 2013. Banning-Beaumont Patch photo by Guy McCarthy.
Detail of map, displayed in Pine Cove, showing the Mountain Fire burn area near Idyllwild, Calif., Saturday July 20, 2013. Banning-Beaumont Patch photo by Guy McCarthy.
Updated at 8:28 p.m. July 20, 2013: The Mountain Fire near Idyllwild was declared 49 percent contained Saturday evening and its burned area was still estimated at more than 42 square miles, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

There were 3,347 personnel assigned to the fire as of Saturday evening.

An evacuation warning remained in place for Pine Cove, and mandatory evacuation orders remained in place for Idyllwild and Fern Valley, according to the Forest Service and Riverside County sheriff's officials.

Updated 5:09 p.m.  July 20, 2013: A thunderstorm warning was canceled for the Mountain Fire area Saturday afternoon, and evacuations were lifted for Trails End, Morris Ranch and Camp Joe Sherman on the south edges of the burn.

"That's good for firefighters' safety," Forest Service fuels specialist Larry Peabody said in Pine Cove, where he'd been assigned to keep an on eye on possible thunderstorm activity. "It's been a good day for the crews so far."

An evacuation warning remained in place for Pine Cove, and mandatory evacuation orders remained in place for Idyllwild and Fern Valley, Riverside County sheriff's officials said in an update.

Update 3:57 p.m. Firefighters were using the Palm Springs Aerial Tram to get to active edges of the Mountain Fire, and at least one Skycrane pilot was using a water tank next to Highway 243 between Pine Cove and Idyllwild on Saturday afternoon.

"We do have hotshot crews coming on the tram, getting off here and working their way down," Sonya Capek, with incident command, said in Pine Cove before 4 p.m.

"The idea is to pinch off the growth," Capek said. "But of course firefighters won't be put in harm's way in front of any fire growth. We also have firefighters working their way up, and they're doing what's called coyote work, where they spend the night, and keep moving up and up and up. They're working very long hours."

Forest Service fuels specialist Larry Peabody was assigned to keep an eye on potential thunderstorm activity from a vantage point in Pine Cove overlooking Idyllwild.

"There's lightning activity forecast for today and into tonight with lightning strikes possible and heavy rain," Peabody said. "So I want to give the guys in there advance notice if we start getting heavy rain, because the potential for flash flooding in the fire area and outside it is a concern."

UPDATED AT 4:05 P.M. JULY 20, 2O13:
Evacuation orders have been lifted for Trails End, Morris Ranch and Camp Joe Sherman, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

An evacuation warning was still in effect for the communty of Pine Cove and evacuation orders for Idyllwild and Fern Valley were still in place, officials said Saturday afternoon.

UPDATE 1:40 p.m. July 20, 2013: The congressman for the San Jacinto  Mountains, the San Gorgonio Pass and the Coachella Valley planned to visit neighborhoods devastated by the 42-square-mile Mountain Fire on Saturday afternoon, according to his staff and the Forest Service.

"I'll be on the ground tomorrow meeting w/ officials at the Garner Valley Command Center and surveying the damage caused by the #MountainFire," Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert tweeted Friday July 19.

Ruiz planned to  speak with reporters near the Pine Springs Ranch, where some structures were damaged and destroyed the day the fire broke out, Monday July 15, according to the Forest Service.

County and state officials have already made emergency declarations for the Mountain Fire burned area and communities affected by it, which will help free up disaster assistance funds for continuing efforts to extinguish the blaze and recovery efforts.

UPDATED AT 11 A.M. JULY 20, 2013:
Crews worked today to build fire lines on a ridgetop east of Idyllwild, as the Mountain Fire looped around and threatened the small town from a different direction.

Residents of Pine Cove, a hamlet north of Idyllwild, were warned to prepare to leave, as the fire was estimated at sunrise to have burned 27,278 acres. But firefighters today said that threatened thunderstorms "did not materialize over the Mountain Fire today, and firefighters were able to make good progress on the fire."

The fire had originally burned east from its Monday ignition point at Mountain Center, south of Idyllwild, into high country and rugged canyons. By Friday, it was advancing to the north, towards Mount San Jacinto, Tahquitz Meadow and Long Valley -- popular hiking destinations from the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

At sunrise today, the fire was advancing along two fronts: to the northwest, towards the small subdivisions along Route 243 north of Idyllwild, and to the northeast, through the wilderness towards the top of the tramway. Today's sunrise fire map showed the fire to be 6-8 miles distant from the tramway, however.

A "monsoonal flow" was poised to send hot winds from the Coachella Valley into the mountains today, firefighters said, and threatened to introduce erratic, gusty winds into the fire area, along with lightning strikes and possible rain.

Route 74 was reopened Friday for traffic between Palm Desert and Hemet or Temecula, but Route 243 remained closed from Route 74 through Idyllwild north to the Nature Center at Pine Cove. But the road was open for traffic from Banning south through Poppet Flats to the Nature Center.

An evacuation warning was issued Friday morning for the Pine Cove, advising everyone in the area to prepare for a possible evacuation order, authorities said. Idyllwild and Fern Valley remained under mandatory evacuation orders, with shelters established at high schools in Anza, Hemet and Beaumont.

Fire lines have been established in the Mountain Center area, but were being built Friday night and today along the ridges east of Pine Cove and Idyllwild, firefighters said at the sunrise briefing today.  Fire activity was most-intense along the Desert Divide and in the Apple canyon and Bonita Vista areas.

The blaze, which officials say was the result of human activity, broke out Monday afternoon in the vicinity of highways 74 and 243, south of Mountain Center, and was just 15 percent contained as of 11 p.m. Friday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Three firefighters suffered slight smoke inhalation injuries in the first hours of the fire, which has destroyed 23 structures, including seven residences, authorities said. An area of more than 6,000 acres of the fire- charred land is part of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians' reservation, according to the tribe.

A total of 3,478 firefighters, 260 engines, two DC-10s and eight other fixed-wing aircraft, 20 helicopters, 30 water tenders and 15 bulldozers were deployed in battling the blaze as of Friday night.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday issued an emergency proclamation for Riverside County, making the it eligible for state and federal assistance. Newsom is acting governor while Gov. Jerry Brown is out of the state.

The cost of operations was $10.9 million as of Friday evening, according to the Forest Service.

Palm Springs hotels are offering discounted room rates for those affected by the fire, the city's tourism bureau announced on Thursday. A list of participating hotels is posted at www.visitpalmsprings.com .

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was closed due to unhealthy air quality on Thursday and remained so today. The Tahquitz and Indian canyons in the Palm Springs area will be closed to visitors until further notice because of the Mountain fire, according to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The canyons, which cover a 56-square-mile area, are owned and maintained by the tribe.--CITY NEWS SERVICE


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