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Wind-fueled wildfire erupts east of Los Angeles
BANNING, Calif. — A Southern California wildfire fueled by strong winds was raging Wednesday through 2½ square miles of Riverside County near Los Angeles as other fires scorched parts of wine country north of San Francisco.

The fast-moving wildfire about 90 miles east of Los Angeles broke out just after noon and was moving westward through largely undeveloped foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, but it was dangerously close to subdivisions to the south, in Banning.

At least 425 firefighters were working to gain control of the fire, which has destroyed one structure and is 30 percent contained, said Jody Hagemann, spokeswoman for the county fire department. Six helicopters and six air tankers were making water drops.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of the Highland Springs Mobile Home Park, where there are about 200 homes. Evacuations also were ordered for homes on two streets, but the number of people affected was not immediately known.

Joe Kiener, 53, was on his lunch hour at the childhood home where he still lives when he saw smoke approaching. He and his dog already were pulling out when a deputy came up and told him to evacuate. A few hours later the house was destroyed.

"It's a total loss," Kiener told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "It really hasn't hit me yet. But it hurts me to lose the house."

The house next door was untouched after a timely wind change.

"It was close!" Kiener's neighbor David Pena said. "God's grace, man. It's a miracle."

Winds of 29 mph were driving the fire, and if they continued, the fire could reach communities in Cherry Valley and Beaumont.

Much of Southern California was under red-flag warnings for fire danger because of heat, wind and low humidity levels.

In Northern California, firefighters were battling fires fueled by gusty winds in wine country.

In Sonoma County, the Yellow Fire north of Calistoga was less than half contained after burning 125 acres. The Silverado Fire near Yountville, in Napa County, burned an even smaller area and was 75 percent contained.

State fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said neither fire was threatening structures, but the blazes across of California could be an ominous sign.

"Statewide, our fire activity is up over 60 percent of normal," Berlant said. "It has everything to do with the fact that conditions are so dry, then you add wind, making the perfect conditions for a fire."

Forecasters said high pressure over the Great Basin would send Santa Ana winds through and below passes and canyons and near coastal foothills until Thursday afternoon.

"We're a bit drier than normal at this time and seeing conditions that we would usually see in June," Berlant said. "If this is an indicator of what's to come, then we're going to be in for a very busy fire season."

In Butte County, a fast-moving blaze called the Panther Fire has burned about half a square mile since it was sparked Wednesday morning, state fire officials said.

A fire in the Central Valley county of Madera that burned 274 acres was fully contained.

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