Silver Fire: Wildfire grows to 18,000 acres with 40 percent containment (updated, map)

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KPCC continues to monitor the aggressive Silver Fire — fueled by dry weather, gusty winds and areas of extremely inflammable grass — which has burned some 18,000 acres near Banning in Riverside County and is currently 40 percent contained. The fire has already destroyed 26 homes and threatens more than 500 structures, though some evacuations have begun to be lifted. Check back frequently for updates, and please leave your comments below.

STATS, CLOSURES, EVACUATIONS: Full details at KPCC's Fire Tracker

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Updated 6:37 p.m.: Fire increases to 18,000 acres burned; Gov. Brown declares state of emergency in Riverside County

The Silver Fire has increased to an estimated 18,000 acres burned, Ventura County Fire Captain Steve Kauffman tells KPCC's Hayley Fox, with 40 percent containment. That's up from 25 percent earlier Friday.

The Silver Fire has destroyed at least 26 homes so far. It's been burning for several days near Banning in Riverside County.

California Gov. Jerry Brown also declared a state of emergency in Riverside County Friday evening due to the Silver Fire, helping direct more state resources toward dealing with the fire.

— Hayley Fox with KPCC staff

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Updated 5:33 p.m.: Some evacuations lifted Friday evening, but only locals allowed back in the area

As of 6 p.m. Friday, Poppet Flats, Cabazon, Snow Creek and Mt. Edna residents will be able to return home, Ventura County Fire Captain Steve Kauffman tells KPCC.

The Silver Fire near Banning in Riverside County has burned 17,500 acres thus far, with 25 percent containment. The fire has destroyed at least 26 homes.

Residents will have to get a permit at a Friday night event at Hemet High School — only those with permits will be allowed to return to their homes.

Officials are also reopening the State Route 74 to Route 243 for locals only, so that Poppet Flats residents can get home.

— Hayley Fox

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Updated 4:50 p.m.: Silver Fire grows 1,500 acres to 17,500 acres burned

The Silver Fire’s acres burned estimate went up 1,500 acres Friday afternoon, with 17,500 acres burned so far, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. Containment remains at 25 percent for the fire burning in Riverside County near Banning.

— Mike Roe

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Updated 3:47 p.m.: Firefighters face danger of shifting winds while fighting Silver Fire

Venture Fire Captain Steve Kauffman spoke with KPCC's Hayley Fox Friday afternoon and warned of the dangers associated with an expected wind change, with the fire blowing back into the area that's been burned.

The Silver Fire stands at 16,000 acres burned and 25 percent containment after several days burning in Riverside County near Banning. It's destroyed at least 26 homes and threatens hundreds of other structures, with local residents receiving mandatory evacuation orders.

"One of our concerns is that the fire, the first couple days, it was a very dirty burn, which means that there's a lot of areas that didn't completely burn the fuels that are in that area," Kauffman said.

That means that, wish bushes and trees either not burned or only half-burned, there could be flare-ups in certain areas, Kauffman said.

"We did have crews out on the line all night last night, and they were able to make some good progress constructing line," Kauffman said.

Kauffman said Friday afternoon that firefighters' job for the day was to improve fire lines constructed Thursday night and to hopefully build more line.

Kauffman said that their planning group tries to look at what the fire is going to be doing in the next 12 hours, planning accordingly, and said that they'll be keeping an eye on things. The group meets and tries to allocate resources based on where the fire's going to be going forward, Kauffman said.

— Hayley Fox, KPCC

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Updated 1:41 p.m.: Silver Fire evacuees wait to find out about their homes — and their pets

KPCC's Corey Moore visited a shelter in Beaumont where some of the people evacuated due to the 16,000-acre Silver Fire are staying.

The three-day old Silver Fire continues to burn about 80 miles east of Los Angeles. The wildfire south of Banning is 25 percent contained. The fire has destroyed at least 26 homes.

Margaret Lopez and her partner Macario Perez live in Poppet Flats — one of the mountain communities under mandatory evacuation orders.

"They said that where our home is, it’s safer now, but they don't let us go up the hill yet,” said Perez.

Perez said the couple had to leave their pets.

“That's the worst part, because our animals are stuck up there without nothing to eat or nothing to drink," said Perez.

She said they don’t know whether their home, along with the cats and dogs, are OK.

Perez and Lopez said they did hear from neighbors that their house on Deer Trail Road may have survived the fire. They also know that several other homes on a nearby block were destroyed.

On Thursday night the couple slept on cots inside a large gym at Beaumont High School. That's where the American Red Cross set up a shelter inside the school's gym.

"We have nice showers, we have towels and we have what we call a comfort kit that has toothbrushes,” said Red Cross shelter supervisor Janet Upchurch.

She said a handful of people are calling the shelter home as they wait out the Silver Fire.

"We're trying to get Cal Fire to give us a time that they can give us a briefing and we will call these people that have registered," said Upchurch.

Upchurch said there's a crisis counselor and nurse available from the Red Cross to help people deal with the agonizing wait. 

In the meantime, Margaret Lopez of Poppet Flats waits, hoping for the best.

"I am very optimistic because I believe in God. And God is watching over us and our home and our animals that are up there,” said Lopez.

The American Red Cross said Lopez, and others forced from their homes, can stay at the high school gym-turned-shelter — until they can return home.

— Corey Moore, KPCC

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Updated 7:34 a.m.: Fire expands to 16,000 acres, fanned by gusty winds overnight

An aggressive wildfire fueled by dry weather, gusty winds and areas of extremely flammable grass has burned some 16,000 acres near Banning in Riverside County.

The fire has already destroyed 26 homes and threatens more than 500 structures, and new evacuations have been ordered in Snow Creek Village in Cabazon, according to Riverside fire officials.

More than 1,600 firefighters were on scene and had made some small gains by Friday morning, increasing containment to 25 percent.

Strong winds were pushing the fire eastward over the same footprint of the 2006 Esperanza fire, another intense fire that claimed the lives of five firefighters. That fire burned in the opposite direction, fanned by Santa Ana winds, according to Richard Minnich, a UC Riverside professor who specializes in fire ecology.

Minnich told KPCC that when fire fighters are battling fires and trying to save homes, their number one priority is their personal safety. 

"If they view that a situation where a home is in an area that is so inaccessible or only one way out or there is no escape route, they are going to declare it indefensible space," he said.

NBC4 reported that nearly 2,000 people have been evacuated so far.

The American Red Cross was at Beaumont High School on Friday morning to register evacuees, some of whom were staying at the school and others who were moving on to hotels.

Val Luna of Twin Pines told KPCC's Corey Moore that she and her husband left their home ahead of an evacuation order for their area on Wednesday.

"We saw thick smoke coming over the house, so we took about 15 minutes to throw together our animals and a few possessions, and then we got out of  there as quickly as we could," Luna said.

Luna added that a picture she saw from the news media on Thursday showed that her house was safe.

— KPCC staff

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6:34 a.m.: A wildfire raging near Banning in Riverside County has destroyed at least 26 homes and burned some 14,000 acres, according to fire officials.

Six people have been injured so far, including five firefighters and one civilian who was reported to have been severely burned.

Firefighters have 20 percent containment as they enter their third day battling the fire, which is sweeping through the same terrain that was scarred by the 2006 Esperanza Fire. That fire claimed the lives of five firefighters and burned more than 40,000 acres.

In addition to the homes burned, one commercial structure has been destroyed and two other structures have been damaged.

Though the cause of the Silver Fire is still listed as "under investigation" by the Riverside County Fire Department, it was clear that the raging wildfire has been fueled by dry weather and areas of flammable grass, producing a vicious combination.

The grasses "can explode on you every summer, every dry season. It's dangerous," said Richard Minnich, a UC Riverside professor, who specializes in fire ecology. "It's a lake of gasoline."

Evacuation orders for Snow Creek Village in Cabazon were issued on Thursday afternoon.

— KPCC staff

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The red boundary shows the area burned so far by the Silver Fire. The gray boundary shows the area burned in the 2006 Esperanza fire.

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With contributions from Corey Moore and Hayley Fox

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