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400 firefighters battle 3,000-acre Buck fire in Riverside County

August 15, 2012 |  7:19 am

Fire crews battling a Riverside County wildfire that has burned more than 3,000 acres made slight progress overnight, and the blaze is now 15% contained, authorities said.

More than 400 firefighters were called in from around the state to help with the effort, as flames continue to edge toward the tinder-dry areas of the San Bernardino National Forest. For now, the fire remains in the rocky foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains, south of Hemet and east of Temecula.

One resident suffered serious burns in the wildfire and was airlifted by helicopter to a nearby hospital. Authorities said the man, whose home was in a remote area, apparently had not received a notice to evacuate. Two firefighters also sustained minor injuries.

PHOTOS: Riverside brush fire

The wildfire, reported just before 1 p.m. Tuesday, grew rapidly throughout the day as temperatures hit the triple-digit mark. High temperatures are expected again Wednesday. At least four structures, including one home, were destroyed by the blaze.

The fire is west of Anza, within a mile of a portion of the San Bernardino National Forest, where drought has heightened fire danger all summer.

"Of course we're concerned," said John Miller, spokesman for the San Bernardino National Forest. "This year our big concern is the fact that rainfall -- and that includes snow -- for our forest was somewhere between 50% to 70% of normal."

Mandatory evacuations were ordered in the sparsely populated area near Aguanga, and more than 30 homes have been evacuated, according to Jody Hagemann of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

South of the Riverside County fire, fast-moving blazes, some started by lightning strikes from heat-born thunderstorms, have burned close to 6,000 acres in northeast San Diego County, leading to evacuations in the rural communities of Ranchita and the San Felipe area off California 78.

The five San Diego County fires are being fought by more than 700 firefighters, along with air tankers and water-dropping helicopters, and were 10% contained. No structures have yet been reported damaged.

"We have very dry vegetation, brush and grass and things like that. Now we have multiple days of very high temperatures," said Chief Julie Hutchinson, spokeswoman for the state fire agency.

More than 500 firefighters were working to extinguish the Riverside County blaze, and six water-carrying helicopters and six water-tender aircraft as well as a DC-10 were assisting, state fire officials said.

Along with the state fire agency, crews from the U.S. Forest Service, local departments and the California National Guard are playing a role in the statewide firefighting efforts. Although flames are more than 14 miles away from Idyllwild, residents and fire officials in the artsy mountain community have been nervously watching television news reports.

"I'm certainly keeping up on what they're doing," Capt. Alan Lott of the Idyllwild Fire Protection District said Tuesday evening.

A decade ago, the Idyllwild area was considered one of the regions most susceptible to a catastrophic wildfire, but that danger was abated by aggressive efforts to clear dead trees along evacuation routes and vegetation around mountain homes, Lott said.


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-- Phil Willon in Riverside