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Heavy smoke from the Grass Valley Fire enveloped the hospital as the evacuation began, but the emergency room stayed open. “The sheriff says it’s time to go,” said Ed Pallette, the hospital’s chief of staff. “We’ve been watching this for quite some time.” Pallette said he was waiting for ambulances to take four acutely ill patients to Loma Linda University Medical Center. About a dozen more patients were going to be transported to a skilled nursing facility in Redlands. SOME SUCCESS With a mobile phone pressed firmly to his ear, Steve Hauer stood on a wooden deck as the Slide Fire burned all around his family’s beloved mountain cabin. Once more, firefighters struggled to hold back the relentless blaze that threatened the 5,200-square-foot home built on eight acres of steep terrain. “They’re saving it again!” Hauer, a retired law-enforcement officer who lives in Highland, shouted into the phone around 2:45 p.m. “I don’t believe it.” It was a rare moment of good news for the homes in Running Springs, where firefighters lost battle after battle to the blaze. “It just keeps eating up the structures,” said David Johnson, who was with a fire crew from Oak Glen in the Fredalba neighborhood. “We’re trying to corral it to save as many as we can.” Officials feared the erratic wind could propel the Slide Fire down the mountain and into the East Highlands Ranch. Residents east of Highway 330, north of Highland Avenue and west of Weaver Street were told to make preparations in case the roaring Santa Ana winds changed direction and flames rushed down the mountain toward their homes. “We’re going to watch what the winds do,” said Mary Stock, battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Highland station. “If the winds don’t pick up and we get the marine layer coming in, that will change things so we don’t need to have mandatory evacuations,” Stock said. “As long as the winds aren’t pushing from Running Springs into Highland, we’re feeling pretty good.” Homeowners received calls Tuesday from an emergency message system advising them to prepare to leave the area. One woman arrived at the fire station and asked what she should do. “As soon as it comes over that ridge, it will probably become a mandatory evacuation,” a firefighter said, pointing to a smoke-choked hill in the distance. “Now’s the time to get your stuff together and get ready.” Homeowners experienced a similar concern four years ago when the Old Fire came close to East Highlands Ranch, a master-planned community of two-story homes selling for $500,000 and up. “We went through this in the Old Fire,” said Valerie Parmenter, a 56-year-old Evans Lane resident who lived in another part of the community four years ago. “We were evacuated. It was an emotional trauma and it was nerve-racking. We stood there and waited to see if our house was going to survive.” PAINFUL REMINDER It was memories of another arson fire that made it hard on some members of the U.S. Forest Service. The one-year anniversary of the deadly Esperanza Fire is Friday, and it haunted firefighters as they struggled to control an unpredictable blaze. “There’s a certain personal aspect of it while we are out here fighting a fire, but we muscle up and do what needs to be done,” said Seltzner, the Forest Service battalion chief, as he fought back tears. The Esperanza Fire ignited on Oct. 26, 2006, near Cabazon. It killed five firefighters who were overwhelmed by flames as they tried to defend a rural home. It burned more than 40,000 acres and destroyed 34 homes. As darkness arrived, the winds were calm on Fairway Drive near Twin Peaks where a nine-man hand crew of firefighters battled hot spots on the eastern edge of the Grass Valley Fire in a canyon about 200 yards below. Eric Petterson, division supervisor for the U.S. Forest Service, stood behind a white house stained pink with fire retardant that was spared the flames. Patches of scorched vegetation, however, were visible at the rear of the home. “The winds have held off so the (fire) behavior is significantly moderated today,” Petterson said. “We’re still short on resources so it still has a lot of open line and it still has a lot of potential.” Petterson also said the firefighters still need more bulldozers or hand crews to cut line. However, he was confident in the line between the fire and Grass Valley and Lake Arrowhead areas but if the wind picks up the fire could blow downwind, which was at the time blowing lightly toward the Crestline area. Staff writers Matt Wrye, Jason Pesick, Stephen Wall, Robert Rogers and Selicia Kennedy-Ross, contributed to this report. RUNNING SPRINGS – Firefighters struggled Wednesday to stop twin blazes that have turned the San Bernardino Mountains into a chaotic, smoldering mess of fire, smoke and ash. Residents have fled their homes, schools have closed, a mountain hospital was evacuated and the air quality has become dangerous from the dry, acrid smoke. Together, the Slide Fire and the Grass Valley Fire have destroyed at least 300 homes in the San Bernardino Mountains and left fire officials concerned of a repeat performance of the Old Fire of 2003 that burned down the hillside into the city of San Bernardino. This time, the concern is for Highland, where voluntary evacuations were called early Tuesday afternoon. EVACUATIONS GROW Locally, mandatory evacuations were called from Crestline to Snow Valley – a 19-mile stretch of two-lane road that runs along the rim of the San Bernardinos. The reason was simple. The fires just ran through communities like Running Springs.