Arson wildfire forces the whole California city to evacuate

IDYLLWILD, Calif. – A fast-moving wildfire — believed to have been caused by arson — tore through the trees, burned five homes and forced evacuation orders for a whole bunch of the city in California sweltered under a heat wave and fought heavy fire on both ends of the state.

The so-called Cranston Fire, which broke out Wednesday in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles, turned into a wall of fire, fire wood and tinder-dry brush. In a few hours time it grew to 7 1/2 square kilometers (19 square miles).

It was threatening, about 600 homes, authorities said.

The fire was the largest of at least five that the police thought she deliberately Wednesday by a man whose car was allegedly spotted on the starting point of the fire in Riverside County, officials said.

Brandon N. McGlover, 32, of Temecula, was booked on suspicion of five counts of arson, state fire officials said. It was not clear whether he had a lawyer.

Authorities ordered residents to Idyllwild, and a number of neighboring municipalities, home to about 12,000 people.

William Blodgett of Idyllwild, said that he could not get home by the fire and had to wait, along with others at a gas station in the nearby Mountain in the Middle — until the fire jumped a highway and began to move in his direction.

“We were all peel out of there as fast as we could,” he told KNBC-TV. “It was apocalyptic.”

Horses and other animals were brought to shelters were some of the hundreds of children who were evacuated from camps. About 200 were at a local high school as a shelter, KCAL-TV reported.

The fire in the San Bernardino National Forest sent a cloud of 50,000 meters high, which was so big, it has its own weather in the form of lightning, the National Weather Service reported.

Throughout the day, helicopters and planes dumped water and fire retardant that turned out to be parts of the country, and houses pink. Fire engines were stationed to protect houses.

The fire is one of the many in California, in the middle of a heat wave that has seen days of triple-digit temperatures.

To the north, in the San Francisco Bay Area, at least one home burned in a fast-moving blaze in Clayton, where the houses are scattered around the windy roads.

Yosemite Valley, the picturesque heart of the national park, was closed on the afternoon of Wednesday, during the height of the tourist season as the smoke cast a veil on the area of a fire in the Sierra Nevada. The closure was heartbreaking for the passengers, many of whom brought their travel months in advance to hiking and climbing, surrounded by spectacular views of the waterfalls and steep rock faces.

“We have one guest who planned a weeklong trip,” said Tom Lambert, who owns a holiday home in the vicinity of Yosemite Valley. “It was a father-daughter trip for her high school graduation … Now it is done. It is sad.” Another guest had to delay the plans to climb Half Dome.

Officials emphasized that Yosemite was not in the imminent danger of the fire. Government decided on the exit of crews for performing protective measures, such as burning away brush along roads, without having to deal with the traffic in the park that welcomes over 4 million visitors per year.

Yosemite Valley is closed until at least Sunday, together with a twisty, mountainous, 20 miles (32 km) stretch of California State Route 41, leading to the area, Gediman said.

At least 1,000 camping and hotel bookings were cancelled — to say nothing of the effect on the day visitors, park employees and small businesses along the highway, Gediman said.

The last time that the 7.5-km-long (12-mile long valley was closed because of fire was in 1990, ” he said.

About almost two weeks, the flames have churned through 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) of timber on steep slopes of the Sierra Nevada just to the west of the park. The fire was only 25 percent contained.

More than 3,300 firefighters are working the fire, assisted by 16 helicopters. A firefighter was killed July 14, and six others have been injured.

In the state’s far north, a 7-square mile (18 square kilometer) wildfire has forced the evacuation of French Gulch, a small Shasta County community that dates back to the Gold Rush.


Noah Berger reported from Yosemite; Chris Weber from Los Angeles. AP reporters Robert Jablon, Michael Balsamo and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed.


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