Buck Fire wildfire grows to 3,000 acres and prompts evacuations near Hemet

The Buck Fire wildfire burns near Hemet on Wednesday, August 15, 2012.
The Buck Fire wildfire burns near Hemet on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. NBC LA

Update at 6:49 p.m.: The mandatory evacuation order has been lifted at 6 p.m., according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

About 50 homes remain under evacuation in southwest Riverside County as crews continue to battle a brushfire neat Hemet. The Buck Fire has now grown to about 3,000 acres as of 8:45 a.m. and is 15 percent contained.

“There’s not a lot of smoke coming off the fire, so from that standpoint, it doesn’t look like it’s doing much, but there’s a lot of hot spots out there and a lot of potential left yet in this fire," said Cal Fire spokesman Glenn Barley. Hot spots are areas where the fire is still burning in brush or in the roots below ground, Barley said, then when the sun warms it up, the fire flares up.

The fire's burning in the community of Aguanga, a semi-rural, rocky area dotted with ranches and trailer homes about 15 miles south of Hemet. There's brush that's anywhere from 10 to 15 feet tall, plus grass, said Barley.

The Riverside County Fire Department said several structures have been destroyed, but it's unclear how many might be homes. Video footage shot from a TV news helicopter on Tuesday evening showed a large two-story home engulfed in flames.

Barley said they’re keeping a watch on the windy and hot conditions that may fuel the Buck Fire.

“It’s going to be warm again today, as it was yesterday. Not expecting any extraordinary winds, but daily winds are going to start to pick up and potentially have an effect on the fire,” Barley said. “The heat’s also going to play into an effect on our crews as they’re out they’re working hard next to that hot fire.”

Barley also said that the humidity is high, but low enough for the fire to burn actively.

More than 400 firefighters and a dozen water-dropping helicopters and air tankers are battling the fire. Firefighters on the ground are putting in firebreaks around the fire's edge.

One resident was airlifted to the hospital after suffering serious burns. Two firefighters sustained minor injuries.

The American Red Cross is offering shelter and other assistance for evacuees at the Community Recreation Center in Temecula.

The Ramona Animal Shelter in San Jacinto is being used as an evacuation depot for dogs, cats and other small pets. Larger animals can be housed at Helton Hay and Feed in Menifee.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The Buck Fire broke out the same day Riverside County fire chief John Hawkins banned the issuance of burn permits for agricultural fires, campfires and outdoor cooking in unincorporated areas. In a statement, Hawkins cited the “acute dryness of vegetation and fire suppression forces being heavily committed” to battling wildfires in Riverside County and across the Southland.

About 40 miles south of the Buck Fire, a series of lightning-sparked fires dubbed the Vallecito Lightning Complex has scorched over 9 square miles of rural San Diego County.

This story has been updated.

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