Crews Gain Ground on Cottonwood Fire

Mark J. Terrill, AP

The Cottonwood Fire between Hemet and Idyllwild was  considered 75 percent contained Sunday, as firefighters faced another day  of triple-digit heat.

"The main things in morning briefing were public safety and firefighter safety," Cottonwood Fire incident command spokesman Marc Peebles said today.  Roughly 2,400 acres have burned so far.

Twisting state highway 74 between Mountain Center and Hemet was reopened Sunday.

"We really want to encourage motorists to exercise caution on the  74," he said. "They need to watch for fire crews and heavy equipment.

"For the firefighters, we're looking at temperatures over 100 degrees  again today, with humidity levels of 3 to 5 percent," Peebles said by phone  from Idyllwild. "We really want them to stay hydrated, drink plenty of water,  and rest when necessary."

More than 750 firefighters assigned to the Cottonwood Fire have their  work cut out today, as Forest Service officials said this morning they expect  full containment of the Cottonwood Fire by Monday. Suppression costs of the  fire were estimated at $1.5 million as of 8 a.m. today.

Authorities re-opened state Route 74 to all travelers at 6 a.m. today,  after the fire burned hot and fierce nearby on Saturday and delayed re-opening  of the road overnight. The Cottonwood Fire earlier burned on both sides of the  road and damaged guard rails. The road had been closed from Borco Street in  Valle Vista to state Route 243 in Mountain Center for two days.

Firefighting aircraft, including two tanker planes and three  helicopters, were expected to resume water and retardant drops this morning.

The fire, which started shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday about 10 miles  east of Hemet, may be fully contained sometime Monday, fire officials said.

The dry conditions and high temperatures that have helped the fire grow  are not expected to abate much, if any, today. Forecasters predict 100-degree-  plus temperatures again across much of the Inland Empire.

No evacuations orders were in force today. Homes in Bee Canyon and on  Willowbrook Road were considered at risk on Thursday and Friday.

The fire may have been sparked by a transformer problem or a downed  electrical line about a quarter-mile east of Bee Canyon, but the cause was  still under investigation.

Winds have been light, but the onshore flow could increase to 10-20 mph  this afternoon.

The main head of the fire was burning about 20 miles from Idyllwild. The  command post and base camp for the Cottonwood Fire was set up in Garner  Valley, east of Lake Hemet on state Route 74. 

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