A wildfire tore through 155 acres in the Joshua Tree area Monday, destroying conservation land that serves as a desert tortoise habitat.
Crews were on scene by 12:30 p.m. after a fire was reported near the corner of La Contenta Road and Twentynine Palms Highway, on the eastern edge of Yucca Valley, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said in a tweet.
Wind fanning the flames allowed them to spread rapidly to the north, covering 100 acres in about two hours before firefighters could slow them down.
The Mojave Desert Land Trust said the blaze occurred on one of its properties, destroying a quarter of a 623-acre parcel known as the “gateway” with more than 10,000 Joshua Trees. Some of the land was bulldozed to give fire equipment access to its eastern boundary.
In addition to desert tortoise, the area is home to burrowing owl, bobcat, American badger, prairie falcon and kit fox, according to the nonprofit.
“We are saddened to see a fire of this size affect this important ecological area. We are hoping that the rate at which the fire moved through the area and the relatively light cover of invasive plants will have prevented significant damage to the Joshua tree forest,” Geary Hund, the trust’s executive director, said in a statement.
Firefighters were able to contain the flames by about 4:20 p.m., officials said. The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center and National Park Service assisted in the firefight.
Crews were expected to remain on scene overnight to mop up embers and maintain containment lines.
The fire’s cause was under investigation, and the Land Trust said the full extent of the damage won’t be known for several days.
It’s still early in the season for fires, but this isn’t the first blaze to break out amid high winds in Southern California this month. Another wind-driven fire spread to 156 acres in San Barbara County last week.
High winds are expected to return to the high desert Tuesday, with gusts up to 55 mph peaking in the afternoon and night, according to the National Weather Service.