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Silver Fire Near Banning Grows To 18K Acres

BANNING ( — Thousands of Riverside County residents were under mandatory evacuation orders Friday as crews battled a wildfire that has scorched 18,000 acres.

The Silver Fire, which was reported around 2:05 p.m. Wednesday on Poppet Flats Road south, has destroyed 26 homes and one commercial building near Banning, south of the 10 Freeway.

As of 6:30 p.m. Friday, the brush fire was 40 percent contained, and Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection ordered the evacuation of Snow Creek and Cabazon Village, south of Esperanza Avenue and north of Hattie Avenue early Thursday morning. Fanned by gusty winds out of the west, the fire moved east on Friday into the Snow Creek drainage.

Mandatory evacuations were in place for Poppet Flats, Twin Pines, Silent Valley, Vista Grande, Mt. Edna and some parts of Cabazon.

Around 6 p.m. Friday, evacuations were lifted for Snow Creek, Cabazon, Mt. Edna and Poppet Flats. Only residents with access passes were allowed back in, however, said a sheriff's spokesman.

Some Poppet Flats residents returned to undamaged homes. Other homeowners weren't as lucky.

Kathy Dexter came back to find her house nearly gone.

"This is the first time I've been here since this happened, since I went flying out of here three days ago. It was pretty devastating. There are just no words to put in it," she said.

Dexter expected the worst when she left the house as the flames raced toward it.

"The flames were already coming over the hill when we jumped in the car and got out of here. They were coming just that fast," she said.

Now Dexter is deciding whether she should stay or find another place to live.

"It's depressing seeing it like this. I don't know if we're gonna rebuild or put a modular here or look for something else," she said.

An evacuation warning was issued for the campgrounds of Marion Mountain, Fern Basin, Dark Canyon, Black Mountain and Boulder Basin, as well as the Marion Mountain and Seven Pines hiking trails and the Black Mountain lookout.

Highway 243 has also been closed between Banning and Azalea Trail in Poppet Flats. Snow Creek Road remains closed at Highway 111.

Sixteen structures, including several homes, have been damaged or destroyed in the Twin Pines area.

The American Red Cross has opened evacuation centers at the following locations:

• Hemet High School, 41701 East Stetson Avenue
• Beaumont High School, 39139 Cherry Valley Boulevard
• Animal Evacuation: San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus, 581 South Grand Avenue

More than 1,600 firefighters, 169 engine companies, eight helicopters, four water tenders and four bulldozers have been assigned to the scene, according to RCFD.

Riverside County Fire is working with several other agencies to tackle the blaze, including the Bureau of Land Management, CAL FIRE/Riverside, California Highway Patrol – Indio, March ARB, Morongo Fire Department, Riverside County Fire Office Of Emergency Services, Riverside County Sheriff's Office and the United States Forest Service – San Bernardino.

Five firefighters and one civilian were injured in the incident. The civilian was airlifted from the scene, suffering from burns all across the body, officials said.

Senator Barbara Boxer, who lives in Riverside County, toured the area affected by the Silver Fire Thursday.

"I will help ensure that everyone here gets what they need to contain this fire and help residents who have been forced to evacuate," Boxer said at a news conference.

FEMA funds have been issued to help pay for the cost of fighting the wildfire.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

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