Crew of 1,000 fighting Calif. fire
A thousand firefighters, 13 helicopters, and six air tankers battled the flames as they pushed eastward along the San Jacinto Mountains, a desert range 90 miles east of Los Angeles, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The fire was estimated at 151/2 square miles Thursday, growing roughly six square miles overnight, with 10 percent containment.
"Unfortunately the size of this fire continues to take away any progress that we're making," he said.
Residents told of fast-moving flames that left little time to get out after the fire erupted Wednesday afternoon.
In the hardscrabble desert town of Cabazon, hundreds were evacuated in the predawn hours Thursday as the mountain ridge behind their homes glowed red. Many returned after sunrise to pack up more belongings and watch the flickering line of fire snaking up and down the brown, scrubby mountains.
Linda Walls, 62, sat with her family in lawn chairs and watched fire crews scrambling to douse the flames marching toward her modest home less than a quarter-mile away. An American flag flapped in the gusty wind that kicked up the fire. She wiped her brow, feeling the scorching heat.
Gray and pink-tinted clouds billowed across the otherwise crystal blue sky. Neighbors could be heard coughing as they filled the beds of pickup trucks with motocross bikes, boxes of clothing, toys and packaged food.
"It seems to be taking off now," she said as sirens whirred by. "All you see are the firemen inside the blaze."
In the nearby town of Banning, Lili Arroyo, 83, left with only her pet cockatiel, Tootsie, in its cage and a bag of important papers from her home, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in a 2006 wildfire.
"The smoke was so bad you couldn't see," Arroyo said. "There were embers and ash coming down all over the sky. The smoke was really thick. I was starting not to be able to breathe."