Eastern winds caused the stubborn Mountain Fire to spread in multiple directions late Thursday afternoon. To the North, the fire continued significant progression in the Tahquitz meadows area, but was held at the ridge. The United States Forest Service says crews were working the edge of the fire and aircraft were aggressively applying water and retardant at the head of the fire throughout the day .
As weather conditions continue to change the fire remains active on the northwest and continues to threaten the community of Idyllwild. At the southern flank, firefighters continued to protect communities by ensuring that backing fire did not build enough heat to create dangerous smoke columns.
In a late night statement, the United States Forest Service says that firefighters will continue to build on the progress made on containment lines. The fire remains active in the North above Idyllwild and South near Trails End. As temperatures cool, crews plan to take advantage of cooler weather. Nighttime air operations will continue and have been very effective supporting crews working the line.
Residents also have been allowed to return to the Apple Canyon and Bonita Vista areas as the threat to that area has diminished.
On Thursday afternoon, authorities held a press conference to discuss the latest updates on the Mountain Fire. Here is what we learned:
- The fire is 2 miles from Palm Springs, but the city is not in any danger at this time.
- The fire was human-caused, but authorities say they do not know the exact cause.
- The fire is two-and-a-half miles from Idyllwild. The winds are coming from the east, and this along with the steep terrain between the town and the fire is what caused the evacuation.
- 11 air tankers, 17 helicopters and nearly 3,000 personnel assigned to fighting this fire.
- The Palm Springs Tram is not in danger at this time.
- All but 5 percent of the people of Idyllwild evacuated. There is no word on when they will implement their re-population plan.
- Incident Commander Jeanne Pincha-Tulley said these were the "bewitching hours," because this is when the large plume of smoke coming from the fire can drop embers almost anywhere in the area.
- She also said, "a 22,000 acre fire in California is not unusual, but a 22,000 acre fire in California this year, is very unusual."
Riverside County declared a local emergency because of the fire,meaning the county eligible to receive state and federal funds, should those officials deem it necessary. Late Thursday evening we learned that Assemblyman Manuel Perez called on Governor Brown to issue a State of Emergency for the area.
Since Tuesday, the Pérez district office team has been tracking this issue closely, including coordinating with Riverside County Board of Supervisors "Proclamation of Local Emergency."
"The state of emergency declaration is a much needed and important step to help rebuild and repair," said Pérez. "We need to make sure our communities gain access to the full spectrum of supports and resources available."
Meanwhile, The ``human caused'' wildfire burning through steep mountainous terrain in the San Bernardino National Forest was within sight of Palm Springs most of Wednesday, though a fire official assured that efforts to keep the 22,800-acre blaze away from densely populated areas were going well. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians said 6,000 of the 22,800 acres burned is on their reservation.
``We are putting in place a strategy to work our way east ... to contain the fire,'' Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, a chief for the U.S. Forest Service, said during an early afternoon briefing outside a command post set up to coordinate operations connected with the Mountain Fire.
``We've lost three permanent homes and three mobile homes, but we got everybody out safe and sound,'' Pincha-Tulley said. ``We've got hotshots, Cal Fire resources and quite a fleet of aircraft available. We're doing pretty well. We are the national priority right now.''
She said flames from the monster blaze ``sloped over onto the desert side'' and were within two miles of Palm Springs' western boundary. But there was no immediate threat to the urban center itself.
She said the fire was ``human caused,'' but was still under investigation.
According to Pincha-Tulley, about 3,000 personnel were working the fire, with the most headway along state Route 74, which was serving as a natural fire break on the Mountain Fire's southern flank.
The USFS spokeswoman expressed concerns about the blaze's towering columns spitting embers miles away from the main inferno, further complicating efforts to get it under control.
``We've got 17 helicopters and lots of retardant,'' Pincha-Tulley said. ``So far, so good.''
She said evacuation orders remain in place in the communities of Trails End, Idyllwild and Fern Valley.
``If the fire goes over the slopes and makes a major run (downhill), we wouldn't have much time to get people out of there,'' Pincha-Tulley told reporters. ``We asked everybody to leave last night so we can secure the area without worrying about folks getting in the way.''
Patrick Reitz, chief of the Idyllwild Fire Protection District, said officials are ``optimistic and trying to remain optimistic ... we can keep this on the other side of the ridge so it doesn't come into town.''
Evacuation orders issued Wednesday include Forest Service land and Mount San Jacinto State Park and the Trails End community at the north end of Morris Ranch Road near Garner Valley, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Riverside County sheriff's Capt. Scot Collins said law enforcement personnel are patrolling evacuated areas.
Some 4,100 residences in the evacuation zones, plus 100 commercial properties, are threatened by the blaze, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller.
The evacuation orders affected about 6,000 people living northwest of the fire zone and were prompted in part by a shift of direction in the prevailing winds, said Melody Lardner of the Forest Service.
Pine Cove, Mountain Center, western Idyllwild and Poppet Flats were not affected by the evacuation orders, which were issued by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and the Idyllwild Fire Protection District.
Highway 243 was closed from Highway 74 to Interstate 10 in Banning, and Highway 74 was closed from Cranston Station in Hemet to Highway 371, according to Caltrans.
Smoke and ash, meanwhile, continued to bedevil the region. A smoke advisory issued by the South Coast Air Quality was in effect today for parts of the Coachella Valley, Hemet, the San Jacinto Valley, the Banning Pass area and the Anza area.