(IDYLLWILD, Calif.) — The town of Idyllwild, Calif.’s existence is under threat from a raging inferno and a 30,000-foot column of smoke hovering above the community as thousands of residents evacuate.
The wind-whipped fire has burned more than 35 square miles in the mountains near Palm Springs, which is near the popular tourist town of Idyllwild. Flames have engulfed seven homes and numerous other buildings as nearly 3,000 firefighters, 17 water-dropping helicopters and 10 air tankers have been assigned to battle the blaze.
“Everybody’s known that if the fire ever came over that ridge, Idyllwild is probably toast,” resident Malcolm Oakes told ABC News.
U.S. Forest Service officials say battling the blaze is a national priority, and Incident Commander Jeanne Pincha-Tulley said the next few days will be crucial for the area.
“Embers get into the column and can drop anywhere,” she said. “For the next two days, it is predicted to go right over the top of this town.”
Most of the nearly 4,000 people who live in the historic artists’ community have evacuated. Some are unsure of what they’ll do if their homes are destroyed.
“If I lose this house, I will go live in the mountains somewhere else, again,” Rosalee, an area resident, told ABC News.
Claudia Posey, another evacuee, said it’s something she could hardly imagine happening to her.
“I have seen it on TV a bunch of times and it was hard to relate to, and now it just feels indescribable,” she said.
Raging about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, the Idyllwild blaze is threatening other nearby towns, including the outer edge of Palm Springs. For some families, it’s already too late.
“There is nothing that you can do, and the fire was doing 15 miles an hour and it just came right on top of them,” resident Bob Parker said.
There’s no end in sight, with wind and even dry lightening possible.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, the extreme heat has triggered thunderstorms, and tragedy, when a lightning bolt struck nine farm workers in Fort Collins, Co., leaving two in critical condition.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Sophie Tatum, CNN
Lisa Respers France, CNN
Lorenzo Ferrigno and David Shortell, CNN
Sonya Hamasaki, CNN