Mountain Fire difficult to fight, grows in size, calling for further evaculations

Low precipitation aggravates conditions

HEMET, Calif. - A fast-moving wildfire in the mountains west of Palm Springs nearly doubled in size Tuesday, prompting the evacuation of about 50 homes.

The fire grew to about 8,000 acres -- or 12.5 square miles -- in a matter of hours as it burned in the San Jacinto Mountains.

A few buildings were damaged or destroyed, but it was not immediately clear whether they were homes or other structures, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Lee Beyer said.

The fire was burning between Palm Springs and Hemet near a rural Riverside County community known as Mountain Center. It was moving east toward the desert and away from small communities of homes, summer cabins and ranches. A change in the wind could easily sweep it back toward the homes, authorities said.

"It's a rapidly changing animal," Beyer said.

About 24 homes were evacuated after the fire started Monday afternoon, along with a dog and cat sanctuary. An additional 24 homes were evacuated Tuesday.

As temperatures soared to 110 in Indio, the John H. Furbee Aquatics Center swimming pool was closed Tuesday because of falling ash from the fire, pending further notification.

The fire raged in thick brush and trees at an elevation of 5,000 to 7,500 feet, sending flames 100 feet high. Beyer said some of the area had not burned in 35 years and that the vegetation was dried out.

"We only had 40 to 50 percent of normal precipitation" over the winter and no rain at all since early April, he said.

About 650 firefighters and 18 aircraft were assigned to the blaze.

Meanwhile, U-T San Diego (http://bit.ly/145CllP ) reported that an 11-square-mile wildfire in San Diego County was contained Monday after destroying more than 100 mountain cabins. Authorities say human activity sparked the fire near Julian on July 6.

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