Southern California Wildfire Evacuation Sends 6,000 Fleeing From Homes

PHOTO: Firefighters in an engine company set fire to reinforce the line to stave off part of the Mountain Fire burning on July 17th, 2013.
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Authorities have issued evacuation orders for more than 2,000 homes in the mountains southwest of Palm Springs, Calif., sending more than 6,000 residents and visitors fleeing an out-of-control wildfire that has already damaged 23 structures, including seven homes.

The latest evacuation orders are affecting people in the Trails End, Idyllwild and Fern Valley communities in Southern California. In addition to the 2,200 homes already evacuated, there are another 1,900 homes threatened by the wildfire, which began Monday. Residents in those homes have been told by officials to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice.

But for some, like Pine Springs Ranch resident Lawrence Gotta, it's already too late.

"Lived here for 30 years, built it with my own hands," he said. "Everything in the world I own is gone."

Officials say the fire has scorched 19,400 acres and was 15 percent contained as of Wednesday night. The Mountain Fire is being fueled by dry conditions and drought as sizzling temperatures hit triple digits. Similar conditions were forecasted for the next two days.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters and 17 helicopters are on the front lines, attempting to protect hundreds of business and thousands of homes. It has been a particularly brutal wildfire season and firefighters say the worst is likely yet to come.

"The fire behavior you're seeing right now is what we would typically be seeing August to September," U.S. Forest Service spokesman Chris Gaulding said.

Susan Paul's home in Mountain Center is still standing, but her property wasn't completely spared.

"My daughter got burned out. Her mobile home is on my property and it burned down flat and everything she had was in it," Paul said. "People have brought clothes, they brought everything and they've taken up donations for her."

The steep terrain and high winds in the area are other obstacles with which firefighters have to contend.

"This, this is hard," Paul said. "There's not anything people can do about it so you just have to sit and look at it."

People in Idyllwild, known primarily as a mountain vacation destination, have been told to pack what they can and head for shelter at a friend's house or hotel.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Lee Beyer said residents of Idyllwild and Fern Valley were allowed home Wednesday night by authorities to pick up essential items before evacuating.

"They're just trying to ... move people out in an orderly fashion before it becomes a last-minute event," Beyer said.

The wildfire started Monday between Palm Springs and Hemet, near the rural Riverside County community of Mountain Center, and grew to 30 square miles by Wednesday. It was burning in thick brush and trees at an elevation of 5,000 to 7,500 feet.

ABC News' Linzie Janis, ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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