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Southern California wildfire forces evacuation of mountain resort

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A fast-growing wildfire in the mountains of Southern California forced the evacuation on Wednesday of the popular resort community of Idyllwild after flames engulfed seven homes and numerous other buildings.

The blaze erupted on Monday afternoon about 100 miles east of Los Angeles in the scenic but rugged San Jacinto Mountains that overlook Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and several smaller desert towns.

By late Wednesday, the fire had charred more than 19,000 acres of drought-parched chaparral and timber, much of it in steep, remote wilderness terrain inside the San Bernardino National Forest, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Melody Lardner said.

That was more than double the acreage reported burned a day earlier by the so-called Mountain Fire.

"Inaccessibility is a big issue," Lardner told Reuters.

With nearly 3,000 firefighters, 17 water-dropping helicopters and 10 air tankers assigned to it, the blaze ranked as one of the most severe of some 16 large, wildfires that crews were battling to contain in several western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

As of Wednesday evening, firefighters had managed to carve containment lines around 15 percent of its perimeter, Lardner said.

Roughly 100 homes in a handful of small communities near Idyllwild and Palm Springs were ordered evacuated during the first two days of the blaze and early on Wednesday.

Evacuation orders were expanded Wednesday evening to Idyllwild itself, along with part of the adjacent, smaller community of Fern Valley and all parks and campgrounds in the vicinity.

Authorities had no immediate estimate of the number of dwellings or individuals impacted by the latest evacuation notice. But Idyllwild, Fern Valley and the neighboring village of Pine Cove have a combined population of more than 3,800 people and nearly 1,700 households, according to the latest census.

No injuries have been reported, but authorities say seven residences, including three mobile homes, have been destroyed, along with one commercial structure, more than a dozen outbuildings and several vehicles.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Lisa Shumaker)

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