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Fast-moving brush fire breaks out near windmills

A 376-acre brush fire amid windmills near Whitewater was knocked down as of about 11 a.m. Monday, but a crew of more than 100 firefighters were standing by in case of any flare-ups.

Cal Fire Batallion Chief Kevin Gaines sat in his truck across from a charred hillside near the Whitewater River on Monday morning, rubbing his eyes.

“We’ve been working all night long. It was coming down the hill. We stopped it right here,” he said.

As incident commander, Gaines was on scene when the fire broke out late Sunday night and will remain there until late this evening.

The strong winds and high temperatures could cause the fire to kick up.

“If there’s hot material that wants to creep outside of the lines, we’d be able to jump right on it,” he said.

The fire north of Interstate 10 was considered 40 percent contained as of 7:15 a.m. Monday, and the county fire department expects full containment by 6 p.m.

The blaze was reported about 9:15 p.m. Sunday near Desert View and Cottonwood Road, according to the fire department.

By 9:33 p.m., a caller advised the California Highway Patrol authorities that “the ridge is now on fire” near Haugen-Lehmann Way and eastbound Interstate 10.

No buildings have been damaged and no injuries were reported. Monday morning, the fire department was still looking into what started the fire the night before.

More than 275 firefighters and four “water tenders” were sent to the blaze, which the fire department said was burning through light to medium fuels and was initially spreading rapidly.

By about midnight, authorities were helping people who live along Whitewater Canyon Road leave voluntarily.

Eight homes were evacuated, Gaines said, adding the evacuation was “precautionary.”

“This is the only way out of the canyon,” he said. “The evacuation was not so much for the structures, but for getting people out of the canyon.”

Barbara York lives about a half-mile from where the fire was stopped in its tracks on the nearby hillside. The scorched earth can be seen from the porch of her home.

She said she was “frantic” when she saw the flames moving down the hill.

“When they tell you you’ve got to get out of your home, what do you take?” she said. “Clothes, pictures, jewelry?”

York, 90, said she only had time to take an overnight bag she keeps packed in case of emergencies.

Her car is in the shop, so a friend drove her to a home in Desert Hot Springs where she spent the night. She returned home about 10 a.m. on Monday.

As containment grew to 40 percent by about 7:15 a.m. and crews stopped the spread of the fire, the evacuation order was lifted.