California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency Thursday in Riverside County due to the destructive Cranston Fire, believed to have been sparked by arson.
The 7,500-acre blaze tore through trees, burned five homes and forced evacuation orders for an entire forest town as California sweltered under a heat wave and battled ferocious fires at both ends of the state.
Brown also declared a State of Emergency in Shasta County as crews battled the Carr Fire, a nearly 30,000-acre blaze that began scorching in the Whiskeytown, California, area July 23.
The Cranston Fire erupted Wednesday in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles and turned into a wall of flame that torched timber and tinder-dry brush. It grew to 4,700 acres in a matter of hours, authorities said.
Utility workers de-energized circuits at the request of fire departments Thursday to help firefighters working in the area.
The fire was the largest of at least five fires that police believe were purposely set Wednesday by a man whose car was reportedly spotted at the starting point of the blaze in Riverside County, officials said. Brandon N. McGlover, 32, of Temecula was booked into custody on suspicion of five counts of arson to wildland, five counts of arson into an inhabited structure and three counts of maliciously setting a fire. It wasn't clear whether he had an attorney.
"It's very sad that someone would actually target a town like this," a homeowner told NBC4. "We're a very tight-knit community."
Authorities ordered residents to leave Idyllwild and several neighboring communities, home to about 12,000 people. About 2,170 homes were evacuated as part of a mandatory order that affected around 3,200 people.
William Blodgett of Idyllwild said he couldn't get home because of the fire and had to wait along with others at a gas station in nearby Mountain Center — until the fire hopped a highway and began to move in his direction.
"We were all peeling out of there as fast as we could," he told NBC4. "It was apocalyptic."
Horses and other animals were taken to shelters, as were several hundred children who were evacuated from summer camps.
The fire in the San Bernardino National Forest sent up a cloud 50,000 feet high that was so enormous it created its own weather in the form of lightning.
Throughout the day, helicopters and planes dumped water and fire retardant that turned swathes of land and homes pink. Fire engines also were stationed to protect homes.
The fire is one of several across California amid a heat wave that has seen days of triple-digit temperatures.
To the north, in the San Francisco Bay Area, at least one home burned in a fast-moving blaze in Clayton, where houses are spread out around windy roads.
Yosemite Valley, the scenic heart of the national park, was closed at noon Wednesday during the height of tourist season as smoke cast a pall on the region from a fire in the Sierra Nevada. The closure was heartbreaking for travelers, many of whom mapped out their trips months in advance to hike and climb amid the spectacular views of cascading waterfalls and sheer rock faces.
Officials emphasized that Yosemite wasn't in imminent danger from the fire.
In the state's far north, a 7-square-mile wildfire has forced the evacuation of French Gulch, a small Shasta County community that dates to the Gold Rush.
Cal Fire has reported nearly 3,400 wildfires this year across California that have burned about 99,000 acres. In 2017, the state's firefighting agency reported 3,200 wildfires that burned more than 216,000 acres through the first seven months of the year.
Last year was one of the most deadly and destructive on record in terms of wildfires in California. Forty-six people were killed and more than 11,000 homes were destroyed by wildfires in 2017. More than 9,000 fires burned 1.2 million acres across California.
The significant increase in the numbers and size of fires last year was largely because the state was coming off one of its wettest winters in years in 2016-2017, which left hillsides covered in grass and other vegetation. That grass dried out in summer and turned into tinder, providing fuel for rapidly spreading fires often pushed by strong winds that can carry hot embers for miles and turn small spot fires into infernos.
An increase in the number of dead and dying trees also has exacerbated the wildfire threat, Cal Fire officials said.
Since 1970, California is not only seeing more fires but larger fires. Seven of the top 10 largest have all occurred since 2000. They are the 2017 Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties; The October 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County; the August 2012 Rush fire in Lassen County; the Rim fire in Tuolumne County in August 2013; the July 2007 Zaca fire in Santa Barbara County; the October 2007 Witch fire in San Diego County; and the Klamath Theater Complex fires that burned in June 2008 in Siskiyou County.