6,000 people under evacuation orders as winds stoke Calif. fire

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LOS ANGELES (L.A. Times) — About 6,000 people were under evacuation orders Wednesday night as a massive wildfire burned out of control in rugged mountain terrain southwest of Palm Springs and began to move toward populated areas.

Fire commanders leading the battle to stop the 19,600-acre Mountain fire were concerned about a shift in the winds Wednesday night that was pushing the blaze toward the resort town of Idyllwild,  U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Melody Lardner told The Times.

The forward advance of the blaze, which was only15% contained, had been burning toward desert areas but changed direction after a frontal system began moving into the area, Lardner said.

“They are stepping up their efforts,” she said of the firefighters trying to stop the flames as they burned across timber and dry chaparral.

Authorities have issued evacuation notices for Idyllwild, Fern Valley and adjacent communities, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said. Earlier, evacuation orders had been issued for areas including Apple Canyon and the Andreas Canyon Club area south of Palm Springs.

Several hundred homes were affected by the evacuation orders, fire officials said.

The massive blaze has spewed large amounts of smoke and ash, prompting the South Coast Air Quality Management District on Wednesday to issue a smoke advisory for areas including Hemet, San Jacinto Valley, Banning Pass, Anza and the Coachella Valley.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters were battling the blaze as walls of flame moved quickly across mountainsides.

Earlier Wednesday, crews on the ground were being aided by 16 water-dropping helicopters and 10 air tankers that repeatedly dropped fire retardant on the blaze, the Forest Service said.

Efforts to battle the blaze were complicated during the day by temperatures in the high 90s and relative humidity as low as 5%. But officials were hoping that fire crews could make headway in building containment lines amid cooler nighttime temperatures.

“Nightime is always a good time to take advantage of the fire,” Lardner said.

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