A brush fire burning on the mountain side near the lower station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is now at 60 acres and 20% contained. It forced the valley and mountain stations to close as well as forcing evacuations at one of the valley's favorite attractions.
The U.S. Forest Service says the fire broke out around 2 P.M. near the employee parking lot. The fire climbed the mountain while smoke clouded the normally scenic view. "Everything was normal and it was clear up there," said Steve Linn. "Then we saw there was a fire going on and thought we better get the heck out of there."
Crowds of people evacuated both stations of the tram, many keeping an eye on the fire and smoke just yards from the parking lot. It was a jarring scene for many who came to enjoy one of the valley's major attraction. "A couple of us had gone up to look over the edges and then I saw the smoke, and some people upstairs were kind of talking on their walkie-talkies," said Brent Minders. "I could tell something was going on, I wasn't quite sure. Then we noticed the smoke and told us to clear out. It was kind of scary."
The fire fight was a joint effort with Palm Springs Fire, Cal Fire, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service. Ground crews worked through steep and rocky terrain to try and get a handle on the fire while air support dropped water and retardant near the mountain's ridge. It's a situation the tram's become familiar with lately. "It is a lot closer than the Mountain Fire fortunately came to us," said Lena Zimmerschied, the public affairs officer for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. "And since it is closer, it is a little more realistic than the Mountain Fire was, just reminds us of how fragile the ecosystem and we are."
Palm Springs Fire is handling the investigation, but the origin of the fire may provide some insight. "There is a chance that it was one of their cars, that maybe they backed up and the brush got too close to their cars. At this point, I don't want to speculate too much."