Wildfire Eats Up Homes In Movie Locale

A wildfire burns Tuesday, July 11, 2006 in Morongo Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Desert Sun, Jay Calderon) ** NO SALES, NO MAGS, RIVERSIDE PRESS-ENTERPRISE OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT ** AP Photo/Desert Sun, Jay Calderon

Firefighters evacuated dozens more people from their homes early Wednesday as a wildfire raced across the desert and consumed several structures in a desert locale where dozens of Hollywood Westerns were filmed.

The fire, touched off by weekend lightning strikes, is completely uncontained, and it may be a number of days before they get it under control, reports Kim Mariner of CBS Radio station KNX.

"If we have more of the same with the high winds and high temperatures it could be trouble," said California Department of Forestry Capt. Marc DeRosier.

Winds exceeding 40 mph fanned the flames, and officials said they didn't expect the strong wind and dry conditions to change anytime soon. The fire had burned more than 17,000 acres.

Dozens were evacuated from communities in Little Morongo Canyon and Burns Canyon. Up to 1,000 fled the flames Tuesday, authorities said.

"The fire moved quickly and the evacuation orders came quickly: Grab it and go, destination unknown," reports Greg Mills of KCBS-TV.

The blaze burned through historic Pioneertown, destroying at least 30 homes and buildings there and in surrounding towns. It was unclear whether any historic structures were destroyed, said California Department of Forestry Capt. Marc DeRosier.

One home that was destroyed was that of Marcy Rose.

"In the 17 years I've been here this is the first fire we've had, the first dangerous fire we've had where any houses have been really threatened," she said.

"We're going down the road and I'm racing the flames that are heading towards the road and I get through the flames and all of a sudden I'm in total smoke and flame and I don't know what to do. And I think well, this is it right here," said Diamond Braverman, another Pioneertown resident.

Other evacuees included Linda Krantz, an employee at Pappy & Harriet's restaurant in Pioneertown, who just had time to grab computers and books before leaving.

"I can see the flames from here. The sky is so black. It's not good at all," said Krantz, who cried as she spoke by telephone.

Pioneertown, about two hours or 120 miles east of Los Angeles, was host to Roy Rogers, Russ "Lucky" Hayden and other Hollywood cowboys who helped establish the desert hideaway in 1946. Movie crews nailed together a saloon, hauled up a railroad car and sank posts around the "OK Corral."

Gene Autry filmed "Last of the Pony Riders" and "Indian Territory" in Pioneertown. Hayden, of Hopalong Cassidy fame, used it for his "Judge Roy Bean" TV series, and "Cisco Kid" producers shot several movies and the TV series there.

By the 1960s, the town had become more of a residential community, although filmmakers began returning a few years ago. Car companies have filmed commercials in Pioneertown in recent years. Music videos have also been made there.

Fire investigators believe a lightning strike over the weekend sparked the fire, which slowly heated up before it "reared its ugly head" Tuesday afternoon, Lannen said. Earlier, they thought the fire was part of several lighting-sparked blazes that began Sunday that had been temporarily contained.

CDF Capt. Debbie Chapman said about 200 homes were threatened. About 2,500 firefighters aided by 13 helicopters and eight air tankers were working the blaze. Seven firefighters and two civilians suffered minor injuries, including burns and smoke inhalation.

Elsewhere in the West, Montana firefighters were trying to control a blaze about 40 miles west of Billings that had destroyed at least four structures, including two homes, officials said.

Authorities urged residents in about 120 homes to leave because of the 3,000-acre fire. Five structures were destroyed, officials said. No injuries were reported.

In Nevada, officials said they had gained the upper hand on two lightning-sparked wildfires burning toward the small town of Beatty, near Death Valley National Park.

The blazes were fully contained by Tuesday night. No injuries were reported and no structures had been threatened.

In western Stanislaus County, Calif., a fire that burned about 5 square miles of rugged terrain was about 40 percent contained Tuesday.

No evacuations were ordered as about 1,000 firefighters fought the blaze, which started Sunday about 85 miles southeast of San Francisco. The fire destroyed three structures believed to be hunting cabins.
  • Lloyd Vries

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