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Banning Fire Burns 3,000 Acres, 40% Contained – Chris Burrous Reports

BANNING, Calif. — Firefighters in Riverside County are continuing to battle a fast-moving brush fire fueled by Santa Ana winds that forced hundreds in to flee their homes on Wednesday.

The so-called Summit Fire broke out around 12:30 p.m. near North San Gorgonio Avenue and Summit Drive.

It has burned about 3,000 acres, and was 40 percent contained as of Thursday morning, fire officials said.

The blaze has destroyed at least one home, and two firefighters have suffered minor injuries.

It erupted on a day when officials issued a red flag warning for critical fire danger due to high winds, warm weather and low relative humidity.

The warning remains in effect through Friday evening.

Firefighters were able to take advantage of cooler overnight temperatures and lull in the winds, which earlier were gusting up to 35 mph.

Early Thursday, winds on the fire line were out of the east at 28 mph, gusting to 40 mph, with relative humidity at 10%.

Temperatures in the 90s and wind gusts up to 75 mph could hit mountain areas by Thursday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

Evacuation orders were lifted on Wednesday night for residents of the Highland Springs Mobile Home Park and other areas that were threatened by flames.

Residents are being asked to use caution when driving through the fire area, and obey all posted road closures.

At least 500 people had been evacuated as hundreds of firefighters from several jurisdictions worked to contain the blaze.

They were being aided by a dozen helicopters and air tankers that made repeated water and fire-retardant drops.

Several horses were also evacuated, the Riverside County Department of Animal Services said.

The fire destroyed at least one home, belonging to Joe Kiener, who told KTLA he was “just trying to pick up the pieces and keep on going.”

He said he lost everything “except for the clothes on my back and my dog.”

Federal officials warned Wednesday that a relatively dry winter coupled with warm summer weather could make for a devastating fire season.

“Significant fire potential will be above normal” for Southern California and other areas of the West, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho., said in its first outlook report for the 2013 fire season.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has responded to more than 680 wildfires this year, more than 200 over the average for the period, the agency said.

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