Wildfire Destroys at Least 15 Homes, Scorches 6,000 Acres Near Banning

A civilian has been severely burned and at least two firefighters have been injured, officials say

A raging wildfire on Wednesday destroyed several structures, including homes, injured two firefighters and a civilian, forced residents to evacuate and charred a wide swath of land between Banning and Idyllwild, Calif.

Dubbed the "Silver Fire," the blaze began about 2 p.m. and grew to at least 6,000 acres before 10 p.m., prompting Cal Fire officials to expand mandatory evacuations in rural areas of Riverside County. 

At least 15 homes have been destroyed and some 1,500 people were under evacuation orders, officials said.

The condition of the three people injured in the blaze was not known late Wednesday. However, officials said the civilian suffered extreme injuries.

"The civilian -- very, very tragically -- was very badly burned," said Cal Fire Riverside Chief John R. Hawkins. The civilian suffered full-thickness burns "from head to toe" and was at a hospital burn center, he said.

Adding to firefighters' worries is the fact that the blaze is in the same treacherous area as the 2006 Esperanza Fire, a wildfire that killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters.

Aerial video showed multiple structures burning, including homes with vehicles still in the carport and driveway, pictured below.  Some residents rushed out, leaving animals behind.

Photos: Silver Fire Scorches Homes | Send Your Photos to isee@NBCLA.com

The blaze was first reported in the area of Poppet Flats Road and Highway 243 (map), which was closed to traffic between Banning and Azalea Trail, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

The mountain communities of Poppet Flats, Twin Pines and Silent Valley were under mandatory evacuation order due the blaze, which the department said was "burning at a critical rate." Evacuations were also ordered in the Vista Grande and Mt. Edna communities, according to Cal Fire.

Just after midnight Thursday, new evacuations were ordered for portions of Cabazon including Peach, Plum and Eucalyptus streets, and Riza, Ida, and Helen avenues.


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"The biggest challenge for us is the people who are in their homes, and when we try to evacuate them, them moving on the same streets as the fire engines," Cal Fire Capt. Lucas Spelman said.

An evacuation center had been set up at Hemet High School 41701 East Stetson Ave. in Hemet.

Air quality warnings have been issued for a large portion of Riverside County. In addition to the Silver Fire, the 1,400-acre Falls Fire continued to burn Wednesday about 5 miles west of Lake Elsinore.

Residents in the following areas are being told to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities: Lake Elsinore, Perris Valley, Hemet/San Jacinto Valley, Banning Pass, Coachella Valley and Temecula Valley.

Anywhere that residents can see or smell smoke from the wildfires is also included in the warning, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

An NBC4 viewer in Palm Springs -- 25 miles away from the Silver Fire -- said remnants of the fire were present in the resort town.

"The smoke is so thick here in Palm springs, the ashes are coming down like snow, and the air quality is really bad!!" Michelle Renee Robinson-Scruggs wrote on NBC4's Facebook page.

The Silver Fire broke out in an area about 20 miles north-northwest of the origin of the Mountain Fire, which burned 43 square miles last month. In that blaze, which prompted the evacuation of thousands of area residents, fire officials had warned of extremely flammable fuels due in part to a dry winter.

The Silver Fire had scorched more than 300 acres within its first hour, according to the fire department’s online incident report.

Four air tankers, five helicopters, 450 firefighters and 71 engine companies have been assigned to the firefight so far.

Temperatures in the area were in the high 80s Wednesday afternoon with wind gusts up to 17 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Humidity was about 17 percent.

On the other side of the San Jacinto Mountains, on the edge of Palm Springs, a fire broke out Tuesday and grew to 60 acres in the extremely steep, rocky terrain near the base of the popular Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The tram had reopened by Wednesday.

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