Friday, April 3, 2009
Between Tramway Road and Racquet Club Road
By Guy McCarthy
PALM SPRINGS - Winds blasting down from alpine high country pushed a heaving, leaping brush fire into desert neighborhoods this afternoon, forcing some residents to flee and others to do what they could with garden hoses.
Gusts approaching 70 mph below the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and Chino Canyon bent firefighters' hose streams at times and hurled embers from block to block, igniting 40-foot palms, awnings, fences and at least one deck behind a home on Milo Drive.
"It was intense in here, all these palm trees burning," Cal Fire-Riverside County Engineer Richard Tovar said, raising his voice above howling winds at sundown. "It was like the whole street was on fire."
Palm Desert Fire Engineer Kevin McNally stood on Racquet Club Road below Vista, near several blackened palms that hung over the roof of a corner home. Darkness was falling, but still the winds roared at times, and firefighters worked from yard to yard with hoses.
"We made some good stops," McNally said. "We did okay."
No serious injuries were reported. Some homes may have been damaged but none burned to the ground, Palm Springs Fire Chief Blake Goetz said later this evening.
"This could have been much worse," Goetz said. "We could have lost a hundred homes."
Winds were clocked at 69 mph in Whitewater and at Palm Springs International Airport, according to the National Weather Service, while gusts of 90 mph were measured near the top of the tramway, said Palm Springs police Chief David Dominguez.
Dominguez said 125 people were temporarily stranded at the top of the tramway when operators shut it down before the fire broke out. Dominguez said he was not sure what time the stranded visitors descended, but once they reached the tram's lower station they were forced to stay there because of the fire danger.
They were finally allowed to drive down Tramway Road in a convoy about 8:30 p.m.
Several hours after sundown, evacuation orders were lifted for neighborhoods near Tramway Road and Racquet Club Road.
The fire was reported contained by 11 p.m. Goetz said he expected fire crews would remain on watch through the night.
An investigation to determine the cause of the fire was underway.