IDYLLWILD, Calif. - A wildfire that has burned huge swaths of wilderness turned toward the mountain community of Idyllwild, leaving the town of artists, inns and outdoorsmen virtually empty in a summer tourist season when it's normally booming.
Some 6,000 residents and visitors in Idyllwild and smaller surrounding communities had to clear out Wednesday as the fire in the mountains southwest of Palm Springs surged in size and began burning toward towns, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Some 2,200 homes were evacuated and 4,100 residences including hotels, condominiums and cabins were threatened, Forest Service spokeswoman Melody Lardner said.
"Yesterday it was pushing away from the communities," Lardner said of the 30-square-mile wildfire. "There's a new front moving in that's changing the direction of the winds. It moved in a little earlier than anticipated."
Residents and visitors from Idyllwild, a mountain vacation destination 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles that also has several thousand permanent residents, streamed down the two highways that led down the mountain toward the larger cities of Hemet and Banning.
Roccio Gutierrez quickly collected her two daughters and clothes as she prepared to evacuate.
"It's scary," Gutierrez told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "I thought they had it under control."
Firefighters were going door-to-door to make sure residents were leaving as a huge plume of smoke loomed about a mile away, but some evacuees were optimistic.
"I don't see the town burning down," Elaine Moore, 73, who has lived on the mountain for more than 30 years, told the Press-Enterprise. "We've been through it before. We just have to keep chugging along."
Temperatures were expected to linger near 100 degrees for the next two days before a weekend cooling trend.
Tina Rose, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the blaze was showing extreme behavior in an area that hadn't burned in many years.
"The slightest little spark is going to make a run and torch trees," Rose said. "It's just so bone dry."
Seven homes were destroyed or damaged by the wildfire soon after it broke out Monday, and firefighters have been able to stave off serious damages since.
The blaze destroyed three houses, damaged another and destroyed three mobile homes, a cabin, a garage and about a half-dozen vehicles, the U.S. Forest Service said. Eleven outbuildings, five commercial buildings and several smaller structures also have been lost.
Nearly 3,000 firefighters and 25 aircraft had the blaze about 15 percent contained.
Camp Ronald McDonald, which hosts programs for children with cancer and their families, was also evacuated.
The fire was burning in the San Jacinto Mountains, about 12 miles from the site of the 2006 Esperanza wildfire that killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters and destroyed 34 homes.