“All You Can Do Is Wait and See”: Evacuees Cope With Another Wildfire

The Silver Fire comes not long after the Mountain Fire prompted thousands to evacuate nearby communities

A fast-moving wildfire that has charred nearly 16 square miles of dry, mountainous terrain in Southern California had left homes burned, evacuees worried and one resident severely injured.

The Silver Fire, which began at about 2 p.m. Wednesday south of Banning in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains, has burned an estimated 15 homes and structures. Four of the 1,000 fire personnel working the blaze have been injured.

Multiple remote mountain communities were evacuated, as were parts of Cabazon, a city along the 10 Freeway, according to the Riverside County Fire Department's online incident report.

The 10,000-acre blaze was 10 percent contained by midday Thursday.

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An estimated 1,800 residents who had been evacuated – from more than 400 homes – were offered shelter at Hemet and Beaumont high schools.

"We’re very concerned, but all you can do is wait and see, and pray for everybody," said local Carole Roquemore. "We went through this same thing – we have family up in Idyllwild. … It’s been a big year for fires."

Roquemore was referring to last month’s Mountain Fire, which burned more than 27,500 acres about 20 miles southeast of the Silver Fire. The newer fire, in turn, is in the same area as the 2006 Esperanza Fire, which left five U.S. Forest Service firefighters dead.

On Wednesday, near the Silver Fire’s origin (map), one man was found inside a travel trailer severely burned from “head to toe,” according to Cal Fire Riverside Chief John R. Hawkins.

He was found by fire Capt. Specialist Greg Ewing, who brought him for treatment, Hawkins said.
The unidentified man was taken to a hospital burn center, Hawkins said.

Meanwhile, residents who had been told to flee the flames coped with the uncertain fate of their homes and possessions.

One longtime resident of Poppet Flats, Larry McRae, skirted closed Highway 243, taking backroads to check the fate of homes in the unincorporated foothill community.

He said he had seen his home remained standing on the NBC4 News Wednesday, but came up to the evacuated area on Thursday to check in person. His home was still standing.

“Several of my neighbors wanted to know if their houses were here or not, and I wanted to know myself,” said McRae, who has lived in the foothill community for 40 years. “We didn’t have time, really to evacuate.”

He said residents left with just the clothes they wore – and one neighbor had let their farm animals go in hope they would escape the flames.

“All their alpacas were set free, and they probably 30 alpacas,” McRae said.

About 22 or 23 of the animals were still in a corral on Thursday, he said, but the other animals were missing.

He said he felt he had gotten off lucky compared to some who lost their homes.

"This little valley and some houses here that had good protection are the only the thing that's green," McRae said. "Everything else is black."

NBC4's Tena Ezzeddine contributed to this report.

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