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Mountain communities on alert as week-old wildlife gets new life

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POSTED June 25, 2015 8:46 p.m.

SAN BERNARDINO  (AP) — Hamlets in the San Bernardino Mountains were placed on alert Thursday as a week-old wildfire roared to new life, devouring thousands of acres of brush and old-growth trees as it was stoked by gusty winds.

The fire grew by nearly six square miles by Thursday as the winds drove it north through desert chaparral, pinon pine and juniper trees in the mountains.

More than 36 square miles of land have been charred and about 7,000 buildings, including homes, were threatened by the fire that began June 17 some 90 miles east of Los Angeles.

On Thursday, the tiny Mojave communities of Burns Canyon and Rimrock were ordered evacuated. The county Sheriff’s Department warned residents to be ready to leave the communities of Lake Williams, Erwin Lake and Lake Baldwin.

A voluntary evacuation was called for Pioneertown, where Old West-style wooden buildings were constructed for use as a movie set in the 1940s.

At Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, a landmark restaurant and music venue, owner Linda Krantz got updates on the fire from forest rangers in parked trucks. She could see a huge plume of smoke from the fire that ran onto a wildlife preserve just five miles away.

The restaurant was closed and Krantz said she intended to stay for only a few hours. The building was threatened in 2006 by a blaze that covered more than 90 square miles and destroyed 50 homes.

“This fire can move so quickly and when you see it, it just blows your mind,” Krantz said. “I don’t want to go through what we went through nine years ago ... that was way too close. We just grabbed things and ran.”

In Erwin Lake, Belinda and Michael Rainwater and their 5-year-old twin sons packed dishes, blankets and dry food into a trailer. They were considering heading to a beach town if ordered to evacuate.

“We’ll make a vacation out of it if we are forced to. I hope not,” Belinda Rainwater told the Riverside Press-Enterprise (http://bit.ly/1GAMsg7).

Before the flare-up, the fire had been 38 percent surrounded and officials had considered sending some firefighters home. By Thursday, it was only 21 percent contained.

“It’s frustrating to have it that close and have it get away,” incident commander Norm Walker told the Press-Enterprise.

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