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Banning fire burns nearly 3,000 acres, but winds ease up

May 01, 2013|By Robert J. Lopez

A brush fire near Banning had consumed nearly 3,000 acres Wednesday night, but officials said crews were making headway in stopping the blaze.

The Summit fire was 35% contained as evacuation orders were lifted for a mobile home park and other areas that were threatened earlier Wednesday as strong Santa Ana winds pushed flames across parched mountainside areas, officials said.

Firefighters were able to take advantage of a lull in the winds, which earlier were gusting up to 35 mph. The Riverside County Fire Department said Wednesday night that the blaze had burned 2,956 acres of medium to light vegetation. 

Evacuation orders were lifted for residents of the Highland Springs Mobile Home Park, where firefighters made a stand Wednesday evening as flames burned toward the area. 

Earlier, at least 500 people had been evacuated as hundreds of firefighters from several jurisdictions worked to beat back the flames. They were being aided by a dozen helicopters and air tankers that made repeated water and fire-retardant drops.

Several horses were also evacuated, the Riverside County Department of Animal Services said.

Temperatures in the area Wednesday were in the low 80s, and the relative humidity was as low as 12%, fire officials said.

Officials warned Wednesday that a relatively dry winter couple with warm summer weather could portend a devastating fire season in Southern California and other areas of the West. 

"Significant fire potential will be above normal" for Southern California and other areas of the West, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said in its first outlook report for the 2013 fire season.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said it had responded to more than 680 wildfires since the start of the year. That's more than 200 over the average for the period, the agency said.

In the Banning blaze, fire officials said they were hoping to make some headway in stopping the blaze before stronger Santa Ana winds and warmer weather hit the region on Thursday. Temperatures in the 90s and gusts up to 75 mph could hit mountain areas by Thursday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

The agency issued a red flag warning Thursday signaling critical fire danger due to high winds, warm and low relative humidity. 

"That's our fear," California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Julie Hutchinson said Wednesday evening of the strong winds expected to hit the region. "We're making progress but we still have a whole lot of open line we have to be concerned with."

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Twitter: @LAJourno

robert.lopez@latimes.com

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