More than 100 O.C. firefighters help fight Banning Pass fire

Officials from Riverside County requested additional resources as a fire scorched more than 10,000 acres Wednesday.

 Article Tab: A firefighter from the state firefighting agency battles the Silver fire on Halls Grade Road in Cabazon early Thursday morning.
A firefighter from the state firefighting agency battles the Silver fire on Halls Grade Road in Cabazon early Thursday morning.

BANNING – More than 100 firefighters and 15 fire engines from Orange County have made their way to Banning, where the devastating Silver fire has torched more than a dozen buildings and thousands of acres.

They were among about 1,000 firefighters battling the flames Thursday morning in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains in Banning Pass, trying to save communities where homes have been lost and about 1,500 people have been forced to flee.

Thirteen helicopters and six air tankers were assigned to the blaze.

Riverside County fire officials quickly asked for additional resources from neighboring agencies, including Orange County fire departments.

The fire was moving east, pushed by a steady wind from the west, said Julie Hutchinson, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The burn area was estimated at 15½ square miles early Thursday, growing from 6,000 acres late Wednesday to 10,000 acres overnight, with 0 percent containment.

Fire officials estimated 15 structures burned, but could not say how many were homes. TV news helicopters and photos from the scene showed several houses in flames.

Two firefighters and a civilian were injured. Hutchinson had no details but called the civilian’s injuries “significant.”

By Wednesday evening, the Orange County Fire Authority sent a wildfire strike team – consisting of five fire engines and 17 firefighters – to help, said Capt. Steve Concialdi.

OCFA also sent a hand crew and a bulldozer, he said. Ten support personnel from OCFA – specializing in logistics and planning – also went to Banning.

There were plans to send an additional brush fire strike team from OCFA, but that crew had just been assigned to the front line in the Falls fire near Lake Elsinore, he said. That crew is expected to go to the Silver fire after they have rested, he said.

Two other strike teams, consisting of a brush fire strike team and a regular firefighting crew, were sent from other Orange County agencies, Concialdi said.

Orange, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Anaheim, Brea, Orange, Garden Grove, Laguna Beach and Fullerton fire departments sent firefighters and equipment.

Fire officials are continuing to review requests from Riverside County to see if more resources are needed, Concialdi said.

Firefighters’ objective Thursday is to minimize structure loss and keep the fire north of Poppet Flats Truck Trail and east of Highway 79, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported. Highway 243 was shut down to traffic between Banning and Azalea Trail in Poppet Flat, according to the Press-Enterprise website.

Evacuation orders covered the Silent Valley Club, a private RV resort; the rural communities of Poppet Flats, Twin Pines, Edna Valley and Vista Grande; and portions of Cabazon, a city along Interstate 10 at the base of the mountain range.

Evacuation centers were set up at high schools in Hemet and Banning.

It was the second major wildfire in the San Jacinto Mountains this summer. A blaze that erupted in mid-July spread over 43 square miles on peaks above Palm Springs, burned seven homes and forced 6,000 people out of Idyllwild and neighboring towns.