Arson Wildfire Forces Entire California Town to Evacuate

IDYLLWILD (AP) -
An air tanker drops retardant while fighting to stop the fire from reaching homes. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A fast-moving wildfire — believed to have been sparked by arson — tore through trees, burned five homes and forced evacuation orders for an entire forest town as California sweltered under a heat wave and battled ferocious fires at both ends of the state.

The so-called Cranston Fire, which erupted Wednesday in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles, turned into a wall of flame that torched timber and tinder-dry brush. In a matter of hours it grew to 7-1/2 square miles (19 square kilometers).

It was threatening an estimated 600 homes, authorities said.

The fire was the largest of at least five that police believe were purposely set Wednesday by a man whose car was reportedly spotted at the starting point of the blaze 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 wasn’t clear whether he had an attorney.

Authorities ordered residents to leave Idyllwild and several neighboring communities, home to about 12,000 people.

William Blodgett of Idyllwild said he couldn’t get home because of the fire and had to wait along with others at a gas station in nearby Mountain Center — until the fire hopped a highway and began to move in his direction.

Horses and other animals were taken to shelters as were several hundred children who were evacuated from summer camps. About 200 were at a local high school serving as a shelter, KCAL-TV reported.

The fire in the San Bernardino National Forest sent up a cloud 50,000 feet high that was so large it created 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 swathes of land and homes pink. Fire engines also were stationed to protect homes.

The fire is one of several across California amid 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 houses are spread out around windy roads.

Yosemite Valley, the scenic heart of the national park, was closed at noon Wednesday during the height of tourist season as smoke cast a pall on the region from a fire in the Sierra Nevada. The closure was heartbreaking for travelers, many of whom mapped out their trips months in advance to hike and climb amid the spectacular views of cascading waterfalls and sheer rock faces.