Hundreds evacuated ahead of Southern California wildfire
Author: Dan Whitcomb
Hundreds of residents of three small communities in the high desert east of Los Angeles were evacuated on Wednesday as an out-of-control wildfire headed toward them.
The fire broke out shortly after 2 p.m. on Wednesday near a back-country road south of Banning, about 90 miles outside Los Angeles in Riverside County.
Within hours it had blackened more than 5,000 acres, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlandt said.
Poppet Flats, Twin Pines and Silent Valley were under mandatory evacuation orders, and Highway 243 had been closed, Berlandt said. A shelter has been set up at a high school in nearby Hemet.
Berlandt said several structures had been destroyed by the flames, but it was not immediately clear if any of them were homes. Local TV images showed what appeared to be single-family residences in flames.
He said some 500 firefighters assisted by water-dropping aircraft were working to protect homes and other buildings, and more crews were on the way.
Authorities have not yet determined how the fire started. Berlandt said conditions were "extremely dry" in the area and across California and the West.
The fire is the latest to break out during what experts say could become one of the worst U.S. fire seasons. Already, a Colorado wildfire ranked as that state's most destructive on record ravaged more than 500 homes and killed two people.
In Arizona, 19 members of an elite "hotshot" firefighting crew died while battling a wildfire on June 30.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)