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California wildfire chases 1,500 from their homes

California wildfires have injured five people, destroyed at least 10 homes and are threatening hundreds more. Over 1,000 firefighters, 13 helicopters, and six air tankers are battling the flames.

By Julie WatsonAssociated Press / August 8, 2013

A helicopter drops water over a wildfire on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, in Cabazon, Calif. About 1,500 people have fled and five are injured as a wildfire in the Southern California mountains quickly spreads. Several small communities have evacuated.

Jae C. Hong/AP

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BEAUMONT, Calif.

A rapidly spreading wildfire chewed through a rugged Southern California mountain range on Thursday, destroying at least 10 homes, threatening more than 500 other residences and forcing some 1,500 people to flee.

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Five people were injured, while more than 1,000 firefighters, 13 helicopters and six air tankers battled the flames as they pushed eastward along the San Jacinto Mountains, a desert range 90 miles east of Los Angeles, Cal Fire Riverside Chief John R. Hawkins said.

A man near the origin of the fire suffered serious burns, Hawkins said. Four firefighters were also injured, including two who suffered heat exhaustion. Officials did not have details to release on the other two.

At least 10 homes have been destroyed and Hawkins said that number would likely triple as authorities make their way into the charred areas to assess the damage.

Hawkins said the wind-fed fire that sparked at 2:05 p.m. Wednesday is one of the "most rapidly spreading, dangerous fires that I've seen" in his 50 years as a firefighter.

The fire was estimated at 17 square miles Thursday, with 10 percent containment, but it was growing, causing concern that the direction could change in the area, which is known as a wind tunnel.

"The conditions at the front right now are very dangerous," Hawkins said.

Authorities still have not determined what caused the fire.

Evacuation orders were issued in five towns. Flames were marching toward the hardscrabble town of Cabazon, where hundreds scrambled to leave in the pre-dawn hours Thursday as the mountain ridge behind their homes glowed red.

Many returned after sunrise to pack up more belongings and watch the flickering line of fire snaking along the brown, scrubby mountains.

Linda Walls, 62, sat with her family in lawn chairs and watched fire crews scrambling to douse the flames marching toward her modest home less than a quarter mile away. An American flag flapped in the gusty wind that kicked up the fire. She wiped her brow, feeling the scorching heat.

Gray and pink-tinted clouds billowed across the otherwise crystal blue sky. Neighbors could be heard coughing as they filled the beds of pickup trucks with motocross bikes, boxes of clothing, toys and packaged food.

"It seems to be taking off now," she said as sirens whirred by. "All you see are the firemen inside the blaze."

At the end of her street, a group of ostriches paced in their cages as the hill above them burned. A firefighter rushing by said they would do what they can to protect them. Nearby another pen was filled with goats.

In the nearby town of Banning, Lili Arroyo, 83, left with only her pet cockatiel, Tootsie, in its cage and a bag of important papers from her home, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in a 2006 wildfire.

"The smoke was so bad you couldn't see," said Arroyo, who lives in the town of Banning. "There were embers and ash coming down all over the sky. The smoke was really thick. I was starting not to be able to breathe."

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