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Firefighters hold line against Southern California wildfire

A view of a burnt vehicle after homes were destroyed during the Mountain Fire near Idyllwild, California July 18, 2013. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
A view of a burnt vehicle after homes were destroyed during the Mountain Fire near Idyllwild, California July 18, 2013. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Firefighters on Thursday held back a wildfire in the mountains of Southern California that forced the evacuation of the resort community of Idyllwild after flames engulfed seven homes and numerous other buildings.

The so-called Mountain Fire has charred more than 22,800 acres of drought-parched chaparral and timber, much of it in steep, remote wilderness terrain inside the San Bernardino National Forest, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The blaze erupted on Monday afternoon about 100 miles east of Los Angeles in the scenic San Jacinto Mountains that overlook Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and several smaller desert towns.

"The town of Idyllwild is still the main concern at this point," said Carol Underhill, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Forest Service.

Underhill said firefighters on Thursday made progress in reinforcing a defensive line on a ridge between the flames and Idyllwild, a resort community known for hiking, mountain climbing and its arts and culture scene.

About 6,000 local residents remained under evacuation orders on Thursday, Underhill said. Idyllwild, the adjacent community of Fern Valley and the neighboring village of Pine Cove have a combined population of more than 3,800 people and nearly 1,700 households, according to the latest census.

No evacuation orders have been put in place for Palm Springs, which is about 4 miles from the fire. The city is home to 46,000 people and is known for its trendy shopping scene. It was once a getaway for Hollywood stars like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

Smoke has wafted into Palm Springs, leading authorities on Thursday to issue an air quality alert for the city and nearby communities, Underhill said.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters, 17 water-dropping helicopters and 10 air tankers have been assigned to battle the blaze. The fire ranks as one of the most severe of about 16 large wildfires that crews are trying to contain in several western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

As of Thursday evening, firefighters had managed to hold their containment lines around 15 percent of its perimeter, officials said in a statement.

No injuries have been reported, but authorities say seven residences, including three mobile homes, have been destroyed, along with one commercial structure, more than a dozen outbuildings and several vehicles.

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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