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Evacuations lifted as firefighters make progress in stopping Banning blaze

Published On: May 01 2013 03:22:07 PM CDT
Updated On: May 02 2013 02:47:38 PM CDT

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BANNING, Calif. -

Ground crews worked early today to extend containment lines around a wildfire that scorched  nearly 3,000 acres in Banning, hoping to limit the fire's spread before fierce winds pick up again and the temperature rises.

The blaze broke out near North San Gorgonio Avenue and Summit Drive about 12:40 p.m. Wednesday, Jody Hagemann of the Riverside County Fire Department said. It spread quickly through what Hagemann called medium brush and burned at least one structure.

 At last count, the blaze was reported to have charred 2,956 acres and to be 40 percent contained, Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson of the Riverside County Fire Department said today. Hutchinson said aircraft would rejoin the firefighting effort this morning.

"Our ground crews worked hard overnight and we believe those containment figures are going to be higher, but we won't know the new numbers until we can get crews into relieve the people who are on the fire-lines right now," Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson of the Riverside County Fire Department told City News Service before dawn.

"We will have our aircraft back up flying and dropping water on the fire as of 7 a.m.," said Hutchinson.

As of this morning, two firefighters had suffered minor injuries, and there's been one home lost to the flames. Located at 43425 Mesa St., northwest of town, the house belonged to 53-year-old Joseph Kiener who told reporters he managed only to save himself and his dog before the flames struck.

"It's a total loss," Kiener told the Press-Enterprise. "It really hasn't hit me yet. But it hurts me to lose the house."

Evacuation orders for the 200-unit Highland Springs Mobile Home Park were rescinded late Wednesday. Mias Canyon Road was also reopened, but Bluff Road remained closed.

An evacuation center was opened at the Banning Community Services Center, 789 N. San Gorgonio Ave.

About 425 firefighters from Riverside County, Palm Springs, Cathedral City, other cities and districts in Southern California, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the U.S. Forest Service were deployed fighting the blaze, along with six tanker aircraft, according to Hagemann.

The Riverside County Animal Services Department sent personnel to the fire command post and had an emergency rescue unit on standby, the department's John Welsh said.

An evacuation center for small animals affected by the fire was opened at San Jacinto Valley Animal Services, 581 S. Grand Ave. and a center for large animals at Noble Creek Park, 390 Oak Valley Parkway in Beaumont.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for the area, warning that air quality could reach unhealthy levels because of the smoke. People should avoid strenuous outdoor activities, keep windows and doors closed and run an air conditioner, according to air quality officials.

Much of Southern California is under red flag warnings for fire danger due to winds, low humidity and heat.

The Coachella Valley's air quality index was 51 as of Thursday morning, considered moderate.