Storm Threatens to Spread Calif. Wildfire

July 20 -- A massive fire spread farther across the mountains above Palm Springs on Saturday as several thousand firefighters battled to protect the tourist tram, Idyllwild and other small towns from flames that were raging up and down the steep slopes nearby.

By noon, the Mountain fire had raced across more than 27,000 acres of timber and chapparal, moving north toward San Jacinto Peak, elevation 10,834 feet. The fire was 25% contained.

Subtropical moisture moving in from the Las Vegas and Phoenix areas elevated humidity above 25% on Saturday morning. "That's a good thing," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Gut.

But thunderstorms forecast for Saturday afternoon posed a threat of worsening fire conditions in the rugged mountain terrain. "That could cause erratic winds and downdrafts on the fire, which could possibly increase the fire activity -- which could spread the fire in all directions," Gut said.

Lightning was another concern for firefighter safety. Nearly 3,500 firefighters were battling the fire, with 20 helicopters, 12 airplanes and 260 trucks.

Evacuation centers were set up at Hemet High School, Hamilton High School in Anza and Beaumont High School in Cherry Valley.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, a popular tourist destination, and Mount San Jacinto State Park were closed because of unhealthy air quality.

Fire crews were able to save some homes. But three houses and three mobile homes were destroyed in Bonita Vista. In Pine Springs, a cabin, garage, workshop and commercial building were destroyed.

Highway 243 was closed Saturday between Highway 74 and the Nature Center south of Pine Cove.

Copyright 2013 - Los Angeles Times

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