By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Thousands of residents in Southern California were forced from their homes by a raging wildfire which remained unchecked early on Thursday as it pushed toward their mountain resort communities.
The so-called Cranston Fire, believed to have been started by arson, grew rapidly by noon to cover 4,700 acres (1,900 hectares) around 90 miles (145 kms) east of Los Angeles in the San Jacinto Mountains, the San Bernardino National Forest agency said on Twitter.
The blaze forced 3,200 people to evacuate in communities such as Idyllwild, Mountain Center and Lake Hemet as it destroyed five structures and threatened 2,100 homes, the agency said.
Brandon McGlover, 32, of Temecula, was arrested on Wednesday and accused of starting multiple fires including the Cranston Fire, fire officials said in a statement.
The fire along with dozens of others through the U.S. West were being supercharged by extreme temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 C), erratic winds and low humidity, factors that were expected to remain in the region through Thursday.
To the northeast, the Ferguson Fire forced the heart of the Yosemite National Park to close on Wednesday after the blaze burning just to the west jumped fire lines overnight, pouring thick smoke into the valley and forcing visitors to pack up camp and flee.
Heavy black smoke from the 41,500-acre wildfire, which broke out on July 13 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains some 170 miles east of San Francisco, prompted Yosemite park officials to shut the main visitor hub of Yosemite Valley as well as Wawona and Mariposa Grove.
The smoke reduced visibility and posed health risks to visitors in the popular tourist destination as well as park employees, Mackensen said.
A firefighter died and seven others have been hurt battling the flames, which were 25 percent contained as of Wednesday afternoon.
The blaze is one of some 60 major wildfires burning in the United States this week that have scorched an area of about 1.2 million acres (485,620 hectares). Most are in western states, with blazes also in central Texas and Wisconsin, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
As of July 25, wildfires had burned through 3.94 million acres (1.59 million hectares) this year, above the 10-year average for the same period of 3.54 million acres (1.43 million hectares), it said.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by David Holmes)