BANNING, Calif. (AP) — Residents and sheriff's deputies were left without an escape route and stuck inside an evacuation area Wednesday night as a huge and growing Southern California wildfire left three people injured and burned homes.
The wildfire near Banning was blocking both sides of State Route 243, forcing some who were trying to evacuate to take shelter in their homes instead, said Julie Hutchinson, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
"There was an area in there that got trapped in the middle," Hutchinson said. "We're in there trying to assess how they are all doing now."
Officials were trying to assess how they were doing, Hutchinson said.
It was not clear exactly where the people were, how many were involved, or how close they were to flames.
One civilian was burned and airlifted to a hospital, U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller said. Two firefighters were also injured, but details were unavailable, U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller said.
Fire officials said about a dozen structures were damaged or destroyed, but could not say how many were homes.
Footage from TV news helicopters and photos from the scene showed several homes in flames.
The fire broke out about 2 p.m. and grew with extreme speed, surging to at least 5,000 acres, or nearly 8 square miles, within a few hours, state fire officials said.
More than 400 firefighters, helped by five helicopters and five air tankers, were working to protect homes and get ahead of the flames.
Evacuations orders were given for the rural communities of Poppet Flats, Twin Pines and Silent Valley, and evacuation centers were set up at high schools in Hemet and Banning.
Margaret Runnels of Poppet Flats was at work when her house came under an evacuation order. She was in Banning waiting for her husband to collect pets and valuables from their house.
"I was hoping they would let me back up to get some personal items I knew my husband would forget like a jewelry box and stuff that means stuff," a crying Runnels told the Desert Sun newspaper. "You always tell yourself to prepare everything but you never take the stupid time to do it."
It wasn't immediately clear how many homes or people were affected by the evacuations.
Temperatures in the area were in the high 80s and low 90s on Wednesday afternoon, with winds blowing up to 20 mph.
State Route 243, a mountain road between Banning and Idyllwild, was closed to non-emergency traffic.