YUCCA VALLEY, Calif. (AP) – Desert winds and blistering heat Wednesday challenged firefighters battling a 36,000-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.

“It’s burning vigorously in specific areas,” said Capt. Marc DeRosier of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Eight air tankers and 13 helicopters attacked from above. Containment was just 16 percent.

The fire, ignited during the weekend by lightning, had destroyed 30 homes and other buildings, DeRosier said. Damage assessment teams were working on a detailed count.

The fire was moving northeast as winds gusted to 40 mph, DeRosier said, and 800 to 1,000 people remained evacuated from Pioneertown, Burns Canyon, Rimrock, Gamma Gulch, Flamingo Heights and Little Morongo Canyon.

An evacuation center was set up at Yucca Valley High School, and horses and other livestock were taken to the town of Landers.

Smoke darkened the sky over the Mojave Desert north of the town of Yucca Valley. 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.

In Morongo Valley – where large ranch homes are surrounded by highly combustible greasewood, Joshua trees, pinion pines and fine brush – residents watched nervously.

“I want to see how bad it is and see if I need to pack up my pictures,” said Tammy Taylor, who drove the family Jeep to the top of the canyon from their nearby home.

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.



On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center, http://www.nifc.gov

Pioneertown, http://www.pioneertown.com/


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