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Flats fire engulfs 2 homes near Palm Desert as firefighters battle blaze amid heat wave

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As the threat of triple-digit temperatures looms across Southern California in the region’s first major heat wave of the year, firefighters are battling a 400-acre wildfire that broke out Sunday in the Santa Rosa Mountains off Highway 74 in Riverside County.

The Flats fire is now 30% contained, although it continues to threaten the mountain communities of Pinyon Crest, Pinyon and Alpine Village, according to San Bernardino National Forest officials.

The blaze, which ignited just after 11 a.m. Sunday, has forced evacuations and burned at least two homes and damaged three others. Three outbuildings also have been damaged in the 400-acre fire, according to the latest incident report.

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Residents of the Pinyon Crest neighborhood are still under a mandatory evacuation order, while an evacuation warning is in place for the eastern part of Pinyon Pines.

“The interior areas of the fire are definitely still burning, still smoldering,” said Lisa Cox, a San Bernardino National Forest spokesperson. “There’s going to be a lot of hot spots for them to work on for the next days and into weeks.”

The closures of roads and several recreational areas also remained in place Monday morning.

Highway 74 is closed between Highway 371 near Garner Valley/Anza and Palowet Drive in Palm Desert. Residents are allowed beyond the Highway 371 closure up to Pinyon Drive to access areas that are not under a mandatory evacuation.

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The Cactus Spring Trail and Pinyon and Ribbonwood campgrounds are closed. Other trails, overlooks, forest roads and yellow post sites — scattered, back-roads campsites — near the highway closure are inaccessible.

One firefighter was injured in the blaze, and officials are concerned a regional heat wave will complicate the battle against the fire.

Temperatures in the area on Monday could climb to 102 degrees, Cox said, and “the main concern is going to be firefighter heat illness.”

Light winds of 4 to 10 mph are also expected throughout the afternoon, which will “test their containment lines a little bit,” she added.

Much of California is experiencing critically low moisture levels, and parts of the Inland Empire’s front-country and lower elevations are extremely dry, Cox said. “So we have extremely dry, extremely receptive fuel beds, and we are expecting it to get worse.”

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