A fast-moving brush fire in Riverside County burned through at least 6,000 acres in a matter of hours Wednesday, injured three people and destroyed several homes and other structures.
Capt. Lucas Spelman of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said two firefighters and one civilian had been injured. The civilian was airlifted to a hospital for treatment. Five communities were under mandatory evacuation orders. For a brief time the fire trapped some residents and sheriff's deputies, who were forced to shelter in place.
Named the Silver fire, the blaze began shortly after 2 p.m. around Poppet Flats Road near Highway 243, south of Banning. The flames consumed 300 acres within two hours and ballooned to 2,500 acres an hour later, according to CalFire.
Hundreds of firefighters descended on the area and the communities of Poppet Flats, Twin Pines, Vista Grande, Mt. Edna and Silent Valley were ordered evacuated. Highway 243 was closed and evacuation centers set up at Hemet and Beaumont high schools.
CalFire reported "multiple structures involved" in the hamlet of Twin Pines.
Television news footage showed other homes on fire in nearby Poppet Flats. There was no immediate tally of the losses.
CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said Wednesday that incident commanders had a "significant number of fire engines that are assigned to structure defense."
The fire was jumping around the rocky desert hillsides, overtaking remote homes and other structures that dot the landscape. Part of the reason it was difficult to get an estimate on the damage to structures, authorities said, was because the fire was spread out over a large area.
Early Wednesday evening the fire remained 0% contained and crews were dealing with strong westerly winds that were expected to last until sunset. CalFire said more than 450 people were fighting the blaze along with 71 fire engines, four air tankers, five helicopters and two bulldozers. Aerial drops continued well after dark.
The fire is burning near the site of a blaze in 2006 in which five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died. A 30-mile stretch of Highway 243 between Banning and Mountain Center — including the portion closed by the Silver fire — is named the Esperanza Firefighters Memorial Highway.