YUCCA VALLEY, Calif. – Desert winds and blistering heat Wednesday challenged firefighters battling a 37,000-acre wildfire that destroyed buildings and forced hundreds of people to leave but spared historic structures in a town developed decades ago as a movie set for Westerns.
Temperatures hit 108 degrees as 2,500 firefighters attacked flames devouring greasewood, Joshua trees, pinon pines and brush in hills and canyons of the high desert about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. Eight air tankers and 13 helicopters attacked from above.
Containment was just 16 percent.
The fire, ignited during the weekend by lightning, had destroyed 42 homes, 55 other buildings and 91 vehicles, said Capt. Marc DeRosier of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The fire was moving in a southwesterly direction, DeRosier said, and 800 to 1,000 people remained evacuated from Pioneertown, Burns Canyon, Rimrock, Gamma Gulch, Flamingo Heights and Little Morongo Canyon.
Firefighters used picks and shovels against hotspots in the Pioneertown area, where the fire raged Tuesday. There was no damage to the historic area, which dates to the 1940s when Hollywood cowboys such as Roy Rogers and Russ “Lucky” Haden began establishing it as a filming site.
Officials worried that if the blaze continued to move toward the San Bernardino National Forest, it could grow rapidly, threatening the resort community of Big Bear Lake.
Elsewhere in the West, Montana firefighters were trying to control a blaze about 40 miles west of Billings that had destroyed at least four structures, including two homes, officials said.
Authorities urged residents of about 120 homes to leave because of the 3,100-acre fire. No injuries were reported.