A brush fire in the Idyllwild area quickly grew to cover more than 7 square miles amid scorching temperatures on Wednesday, burning homes and threatening hundreds more.
The Cranston Fire erupted around noon off Highway 74 between Hemet and Mountain Center, in the San Jacinto Mountains, the San Bernardino National Forest Service tweeted.
It grew to 200 acres within 40 minutes of breaking out, then quadrupled in size just before 2 p.m., officials said.
By 8:45 p.m., the fire had grown to 4,700 acres, according to the San Bernardino National Forest. It reached 5 percent containment late Wednesday night with roughly 700 personnel involved in the response, the agency tweeted.
Videos from the scene show multiple homes in flames, and forest officials said at least five residences have been destroyed.
Though winds weren’t strong, the sweltering heat paired with dry fuel and rugged terrain made for a staggering firefight, said Lee Beyer with the U.S. Forest Service.
“The fire’s moving very quickly so trying to stay ahead of it, even with the aircraft, has been a challenge,” he told KTLA.
In the early hours of the firefight, the flames steadily made headway toward buildings in some sparsely populated areas Wednesday afternoon, Sky5 video showed.
The fire devoured any trees and brush in its path, sending tall columns of thick smoke high up into the air that were visible miles away.
At one point, Sky5 video showed the flames burning perilously close to several structures near the top of a ridge. It was unclear whether any of those were damaged or destroyed, however.
The fire jumped Highway 243 near the Idyllwild Grinding facility as the out-of-control inferno continued to explode in size against firefighter efforts to contain the blaze.
Evacuation orders, smoke advisory issued
Roughly 3,200 people were evacuated from 2,174 homes, authorities said.
Evacuations were mandatory in Idyllwild, Apple Canyon, Mountain Center, Lake Hemet and Hurkey Creek, National Forest officials said in a tweet around 7:15 p.m.
By Wednesday night, Idyllwild was deserted except for handful or residents who stayed behind.
An evacuation center has been set up at Banning High School, locating at 100 W. Westward Ave. in Banning, according to the Forest Service.
Small animals are welcome at Banning High School; large animals can be taken to San Jacinto High School, which is at 500 Idyllwild Dr. in San Jacinto.
Animals of both sizes are being accepted at the San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus at 581 S. Grand Ave. as well as Dysart Equestrian Park, at 2101 W. Victory Ave. in Banning. Small animals left at Dysart would be transferred to San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus, officials said.
Residents who need assistance moving large animals can contact 951-358-7329.
A call center has been opened for general public information on the fire. The number is 909-383-5688.
In addition to the evacuations, Highway 74 has been closed between Mountain Center and Cranston Fire Station, which is near Hemet.
Highway 243 has also been shut down between Pine Cove and Mountain Center.
Meanwhile, a smoke advisory was issued mid-afternoon in several parts of Riverside County because of the Cranston Fire. The advisory is in effect for the Perris Valley, Anza, Hemet and the San Jacinto Valley, Banning Pass and the Coachella Valley because of the Cranston Fire.
A number of agencies are responding to the fire via ground and air; the San Bernardino National Forest is in unified command with Cal Fire Riverside and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Man accused of arson
Investigators believe a Temecula man intentionally sparked the blaze, along with four others, on Wednesday afternoon.
Brandon M. McGlover, 32, was arrested in Hemet around 12:15 p.m. after police stopped his vehicle, which had been tied to several incidents of arson within the National Forest along Highway 74.
He was booked on suspicion of five counts of arson to wildland, but may be implicated in more, officials said.
Witnesses told the California Highway Patrol that they saw an individual start multiple fires in the area, including one around 11:50 a.m., around the time the Cranston Fire broke out, the Press-Enterprise reported.
The individual was reported to be driving a white Honda, which was pulled over about 35 minutes later south of Hemet, according to the Press Enterprise.
Fire breaks out amid heat wave
The flames broke out as Southern California entered the third day of a heat wave that has already brought record-setting temperatures to parts of the region.
Temperatures in the area where the fire was burning were expected to hit the mid-to-upper 90s on Wednesday afternoon, with lights winds blowing at 5 to 10 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
An excessive heat warning is in effect in the Idyllwild area through 9 p.m. Friday, with temperatures forecast to potentially hit up to 104 degrees during that time period.
Idyllwild is roughly 90 miles east of Los Angeles.
KTLA’s Kristina Bravo, Erika Martin, Matt Phillips and Nidia Becerra contributed to this story.