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Upwards of 1,000 people in about 400 RVs at Silent Valley Club RV Resort near Poppet Flat, Calif., were safe today (Oct. 27) from a deadly wildfire believed to have been set by an arsonist that killed four firefighters.
The RVers, however, were unable to leave the resort after firefighters closed the only road out of the community. TV footage showed vehicles racing through smoke and flames just before the road was closed, according to the Associated Press.
Firefighters said it was safer to keep the people in the RV park because the blaze was stymied by a firebreak created years earlier around the area, said Sheriff’s Cpl. Todd Garvin. “This is a safe haven here,” Garvin said. “That was cleared about six years ago, and it still works. It’s amazing.”
Several hundred local residents evacuated temporarily to the RV park, but later were able to leave. People staying in RVs were told to remain in the park to avoid congesting the road out. “They’re fine,” Bill Peters, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry told The Associated Press. “It’s still too dangerous. The roads just aren’t wide enough. It’s easier for us to keep them there when we’re on the roads with our equipment.”
About 400 RVs with 800 to 1,000 people had registered to spend the weekend for annual Halloween events, said Silent Valley ranger Charles Van Brunt. Officials said the visitors had enough food and water because they had prepared to be there for the weekend.
Meanwhile, as that fire raged, another flared up in neighboring Orange County, about 50 miles southwest, that forced the evacuation of about 140 people from a Campground near Cleveland National Forest, said Orange County Fire Capt. Steve Miller.
Fire crews continued struggling to protect homes Friday from a wildfire that trapped and killed four firefighters as it raced across Southern California. The blaze, which authorities said was arson, blackened nearly 24,000 acres, almost 38 square miles in the San Jacinto Mountains just west of Palm Springs, destroying 10 structures, including at least five homes.
Fire officials were mourning the deaths of four U.S. Forest Service firefighters killed while attempting to protect a home close to where the fire began in Cabazon on Thursday. The flames appeared so quickly the five-person crew had no time to retreat to its engine or use portable fire shelters. A fifth firefighter was in critical condition with burns over 95% of his body.
Authorities said a $100,000 reward would be offered for information leading to the arsonist’s arrest.
Authorities haven’t revealed why they think the fire was arson. “Because of the seriousness, they’re going to want to make sure that if and when this goes to court, they want to make sure it goes all the way,” Peters said.
Thursday’s deaths brought to 19 the number of California firefighters killed in the line of duty over the past year, according to statistics kept by California Professional Firefighters, a lobbying organization.