By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A wildfire raged out of control in the high desert east of Los Angeles on Wednesday, injuring two firefighters and one civilian and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents of three small communities.
The fire broke out shortly after 2 p.m. near a back-country road south of Banning, about 90 miles outside Los Angeles in Riverside County.
Within hours it had blackened more than 5,000 acres, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlandt said.
The department's website said three people had been injured but provided no additional details.
Poppet Flats, Twin Pines and Silent Valley were under mandatory evacuation orders, and Highway 243 had been closed, Berlandt said. Shelters had been set up at high schools in nearby Hemet and Beaumont, the department's website said.
Berlandt said several structures had been destroyed by the flames, but it was not immediately clear whether any of them were homes. Local TV images showed what appeared to be single-family residences in flames.
He said some 500 firefighters assisted by water-dropping aircraft were working to protect homes and other buildings, and more crews were on the way.
Authorities have not yet determined how the fire started. Berlandt said conditions were "extremely dry" in the area and across California and the West.
The fire is the latest to break out during what experts say could become one of the worst U.S. fire seasons. A Colorado wildfire, ranked as that state's most destructive on record, ravaged more than 500 homes and killed two people.
In Arizona, 19 members of an elite "hotshot" firefighting crew died while battling a wildfire on June 30.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Xavier Briand and Ken Wills)