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Calif. crews battle raging Mountain Fire as possible thunderstorms loom

Possible weekend thunderstorms could be a mixed blessing for fire crews battling a massive blaze in Southern California.

Officials said rain would help in the fight against the 27,000-acre wildfire and help bring down temperatures that have neared the triple digits. But a thunderstorm could also make the fire that has threatened the mountain resort of Idyllwild, Calif., even more unpredictable.

“[Thunderstorms] could produce strong down draft winds which could cause erratic fire behavior and unpredictable fire spread direction,” Edwin Simpson, spokesman for Cal Fire, told NBC Los Angeles.

This July 17, 2013 image provided by Meagan Greene shows wildfire smoke near Idyllwild, Calif. Area thunderstorms this weekend may be a mixed blessing for firefighters battling the blaze. Meagan Greene / AP

Around 3,350 firefighters were battling the so-called Mountain Fire for six days and had the flames 50 percent contained, making major progress in the past 24 hours, NBC Los Angeles reported. Still, many area residents remained evacuated and the blaze continued to grow.

Late Friday, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency while filling in for vacationing Gov. Jerry Brown.

About 6,000 residents remained evacuated from Idyllwild for a fourth straight day, and nearly 700 more people were advised to evacuate by fire officials. Officials declared evacuations for Idyllwild and Fern Valley. An evacuation warning was in effect for nearby Pine Cove, officials said. 

Twelve buildings were destroyed along with dozens of other structures in the San Jacinto range, according to NBC Los Angeles. Officials say 5,600 homes remain under potential threat.

The blaze was less than two miles from Idyllwild and Palm Springs on Saturday.

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“It’s hard to come back and see your stuff is no longer there,” Shanda Paul told NBC Los Angeles as she surveyed the charred remains of what was once her home.

Around 30 aircraft were battling the flames in temperatures that have ranged from 75 degrees to 110.

Along with communities, the wildfire has shut down camp grounds and a 30-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail.

“A fire of this magnitude can take weeks to reach full containment,” Chris Gaulding of the U.S. Forest Service told NBC Los Angeles.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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