Pioneertown braces for red flag warning

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for Southern California including Riverside county and the Coachella Valley from Thursday evening through Sunday night.  Santa Ana winds and dry, hot weather are contributing to the critical fire conditions. 

The conditions have some residents in high desert areas worried about what's to come.  Pioneertown off Highway 62 in the Morongo Basin started as a live-in old west motion picture set in the 1940s.  While keeping the history intact, it's also become home to a large community.  A group of people that's always concerned this time of year.  "Well, because of the heat and the dry," said John Jefferies.  "You see all around us how dry the brush is." 

Jefferies settled in Pioneertown 37 years ago.  He's seen many fire season but few that rival the early onset and intensity of 2013.  Riverside county's seen several large fires already, before the Santa Ana winds even kicked in.  "When we had the Idyllwild (Mountain) fire just recently and the other Banning (Silver) fire, we had ash up here," said Jefferries.  

Pair that kind of activity early in the season with the strong winds, ongoing drought and Pionertown's isolated location--and it's easy to understand why some residents worry.  "It's scary because the fire just burns right over the hills, ten stories high," said David Johnson.  "It's very daunting." 

Johnson speaks from experience.  He works at famous Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown palace.  He was there when the Sawtooth fire got dangerously close to the landmark in 2006.  "It was columns 200 feet in the air," said Jefferies.  "Like a twister of fire, that's how it was." 

The fire destroyed home, scorched the nearby mountains and gave residents new reason to be extra cautious during fire season. "It would be totally devastating," said Johnson.  "There's no telling how bad it would be or how many people would be out of their houses." 

Pioneertown has a volunteer fire department.  Also, many of the residents have cleared out brush around their homes as a precaution.  Jefferies wants people to know they are completely safe and to come see a piece of American history. 

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