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Thousands evacuate as Calif. fire spreads

IDYLLWILD, Calif. -- Artist Lewis Millett didn't need much more than an order to leave his longtime mountain home after seeing 100-foot flames marching toward the mile-high hamlet that draws tourists, summer campers and students to a year-round arts and music school.

Millet, 61, and his wife scooped up the things that matter most from their home -- two cats, his paintings and sculptures and his father's Medal of Honor -- and went to an evacuation center in Hemet.

Millet was among the 6,000 residents and tourists told to evacuate the community in the San Jacinto Mountains about 100 miles from Los Angeles as the wildfire grew to more than 35 square miles yesterday, wreathing a ridge about 2 to 3 miles from town. The blaze was 2 miles away from Palm Springs, but no homes were threatened there.

It had destroyed at least six houses and mobile homes and several cars when winds shifted Wednesday and sent the blaze toward Idyllwild.

Fire officials said the blaze was just 15 percent contained and had been growing in an atypical manner.

"Usually it cools down at night and we get more humidity. That hasn't happened," said Tina Rose, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

While authorities said only 5 percent of the town rebuffed evacuating, they cautioned they might not be able to help those who remain.

The 22,800-acre fire spread in three directions through thick brush and trees. Roughly 4,100 houses, condos, cabins and several hotels in Idyllwild and surrounding communities were threatened. -- AP

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