3 hurt, homes burn in huge S. Calif. wildfire

BANNING, Calif. (AP) — An out-of-control wildfire growing with great speed in Southern California mountains Wednesday night burned homes, forced about 1,500 residents and campers to evacuate and left three people including two firefighters injured.

The fire broke out about 2 p.m. near Banning and surged to at least 6,000 acres, or more than 9 square miles, within a few hours, state fire officials said.

One civilian was burned and airlifted to a hospital, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement. Two firefighters were also injured and both were taken to hospitals by ambulance. Officials would give no further details on the injuries.

Fire officials said about a dozen structures were damaged or destroyed, but could not say how many were homes. Footage from TV news helicopters and photos from the scene showed several houses in flames.

They include the Twin Pines home of Dave Clark, whose parents were killed in a house fire in Riverside in April 2012 the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported. Prosecutors alleged Clark’s sister Deborah Clark set the fire, and she was awaiting a mental-competency hearing to see if she was competent to stand trial for her parents’ murder in a case that has received extensive local media coverage.

A photograph taken by the Desert Sun newspaper showed Clark talking on his cellphone with the home fully engulfed in flames behind him.

“He said he lost everything, he couldn’t talk,” brother Jeff Clark told the Press-Enterprise.

About 800 people evacuated the Silent Valley Club, a private RV resort, state fire spokesman Lucas Spelman said.

About 700 more were under evacuation order in the rural communities of Poppet Flats, Twin Pines, Edna Valley and Vista Grande, and evacuation centers were set up at high schools in Hemet and Banning. The communities are in the San Jacinto Mountains along Interstate 10 some 80 miles east of Los Angeles.

Margaret Runnels of Poppet Flats was at work when her house came under an evacuation order. She was in Banning waiting for her husband to collect pets and valuables from their house.

“I was hoping they would let me back up to get some personal items I knew my husband would forget like a jewelry box and stuff that means stuff,” a crying Runnels told the Desert Sun. “You always tell yourself to prepare everything but you never take the stupid time to do it.”

Some residents and sheriff’s deputies helping them evacuate were temporarily left without an escape route when both sides of State Route 243 were blocked by the fire, forcing them to take shelter in place.

“There was an area in there that got trapped in the middle,” state fire spokeswoman Julie Hutchinson said.

They were later able to safely evacuate, according to state fire spokeswoman Jody Hagemann, who said she had no further details.

More than 500 firefighters, helped by five helicopters and five air tankers, were working to protect homes and get ahead of the flames. All but three helicopters were grounded after night fall but were set to return to the air Thursday morning.

Temperatures in the area were in the high 80s and low 90s on Wednesday, with winds blowing up to 20 mph.

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