With fire threatening this San Jacinto Mountains town,
about 6,000 residents were forced to evacuate for their safety, with the
potential for embers flying into the town from the nearby Mountain Fire.
Among the evacuees were a large group of students and faculty from Idyllwild Arts Academy, a local visual and performing arts academy, forced to evacuate to Hemet High School on Wednesday.
Away from their families, about 450 students, children and teenagers, spent the night at the school gymnasium, along with about 60 staff members. Among staff were some college-aged young people from out of state.
Mataya Josephson, of Los Angeles, is a student in the theater program.
"This whole situation has been very scary and kind of heartbreaking because we don't get to come back with the counselors," Josephson said. "Everyone has been so amazing helping out, and it's been a cool experience to work together."
The majority of the school's students were from Southern California and most had been picked up by Wednesday afternoon. The remainder -- about 50 from out of state and from other countries -- were set to check into a local motel late Thursday afternoon.
The school was waiting on word from fire authorities as to when they could come back to campus. The program has about a week left, and school officials said they would finish the remainder of the summer program, if allowed to return by the weekend.
Kelly Hudson, 20, a summer program counselor from Los Angeles, said it was nerve-wracking to drive to the evacuation center and see a big tree engulfed by fire.
"I think of it as an adventure," Hudson said. "You have to look at it positively. I think they're handling it really well. Hopefully we'll be back and running by this weekend. They're doing their best."
About 3,000 firefighters from agencies throughout Southern California were battling the blaze, and it was unclear whether campus staff and students would be able to come back.
Also among 800 evacuees accommodated at Hemet High School on Wednesday night were some Idyllwild residents, worried about their properties and a fear of looters.
Rocio Gutierrez of Idyllwild spent the night at the evacuation center with her husband and two young daughters.
"I'm sad about my house," Gutierrez said. "We left my house in a hurry and right now, we're staying here at the shelter. It's kind of hard. My girls can't sleep and they're just hungry. It's really hard for us to be here right now and it's hot and it's terrible.
Gutierrez added, "I'm really worried about my house and the stuff that's in the house."
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