160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AVALON, Calif. (AP) – A wind-driven wildfire threatened Santa Catalina Island’s main city Thursday and residents and visitors were urged to leave the resort isle more than 20 miles off Southern California. Flames towered at the edge of Avalon at dusk as hundreds of people lined up at its harbor to board a ferry back to the mainland. Many covered their faces with towels and bandanas as ashes fell. “The city is threatened right now,” said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Ron Haralson at the department’s mainland headquarters. The blaze was estimated at more than 500 acres. A commercial building and several outbuildings burned but no homes had been lost as the battle went late into the night. Smoke hung over the quaint crescent harbor, landmark 1929 Catalina Casino and homes, restaurants and tiny hotels clinging to slopes above the waterfront. The scene was a far cry from the idyllic image cultivated in its 1930s and ’40s heyday as a playground for movie stars and in The Four Preps’ 1950s hit “26 Miles.” Part of the city was under a mandatory evacuation order, Haralson said. In Avalon, authorities used a bullhorn to urge people to evacuate. Visitors were directed to the historic art deco Casino that rises over one end of the harbor. Resident evacuees were sent to another harbor site. “There’s an eerie glow over the town, we need to leave,” Dan Teckenoff, publisher of the Catalina Islander, said earlier in the afternoon during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. The island’s school and hospital voluntarily evacuated, Teckenoff said. The Catalina Express ferry service added a third evening departure from Avalon, said spokeswoman Elaine Vaughn. Each vessel can carry up to 400 people. The blaze erupted about 12:30 p.m. five miles east of the island’s Airport in the Sky. It was fanned by winds moving at 15 mph and gusts of up to 20 mph, Haralson said. “That’s not good, not when it’s dry and the terrain is hard to access by ground,” Haralson said. One county firefighter was overcome by smoke and hospitalized in stable condition. About 160 firefighters, aided by four water-dropping helicopters, were battling the blaze. Three air tankers swooped low over ridges and canyons to drop lines of orange fire retardant ahead of the flames. State and county fire crews and engines were being shipped from to the island by hovercraft from the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The hovercraft trip takes one hour to reach Catalina. Late in the day the state received permission to use National Guard helicopters to fly 70 inmate firefighters across the channel. “We can see heavy smoke from where we’re at,” said Art Peguero from the Hotel Mac Rae on the beach in Avalon. “I was born and raised here and I’ve never seen anything like this.” Peguero said about 20 hotel guests left and headed to the beach. “They have no choice but to stay on the beach until further notice,” he said. Avalon resident Steve Adams said he was watching from his deck as helicopters dropped water on flames burning down a ridge toward town. “Half the town has already been evacuated,” Adams said by telephone. A family of eight said they had just enough time to pack some clothes and personal papers before fleeing to the beach to catch a ferry. “I’m scared,” said Angelica Romero, 30, holding her 7-month-old daughter. “But what’s important is I have my children. The rest doesn’t matter.” Her 5-year-old son, Mauricio, wore a bandanna over his mouth and stared at the flames. A group of seventh-grade students from Whittier abandoned their campground when they were told to evacuate immediately. They said they left behind clothes and camping equipment. “It was pretty scary, but also kind of cool,” said Caitlin Wiltz, 13, as she waited to board a ferry. Tourist Karen Hollweg, of Boulder, Colo., was lunching at the airport with her 91-year-old mother, Lucille Christensen of Bakersfield, when the fire broke out. They fled the island by helicopter. “We tried to get back to Avalon, but by that time the road was closed because of the smoke and lack of visibility and because the fire was moving down the road,” Hollweg said. She said her husband, a captain in county fire’s Baywatch division, stayed behind to help fight the fire. Clarence Hunt, an island resident for 23 years, returned from a mainland trip because of the fire. “First they said it was 50 acres, then they said it was 150 acres. When they said it was 400 acres, I turned around,” Hunt, 75, said aboard a ferry heading to Avalon. He said he was going to look for his wife, who evacuated from their home. At the mainland port of Long Beach, island resident Kathy Troeger arrived on a ferry with her three children and a friend’s daughter. Her husband, a captain in county fire’s Baywatch division, stayed behind to help fight the fire. “It was like a nightmare when we left,” she said. “You couldn’t breathe and ash was falling like snow.” Despite being well offshore, Catalina has been left parched by the lack of rainfall that has made the rest of Southern California easy prey for wildfires like the one that gave Los Angeles a scare this week. Only 2 inches of rain have fallen on Catalina since January, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Meier. Catalina is a long, narrow island covering 76 square miles and is served by ferry boats from Los Angeles, Long Beach and other mainland harbors. Avalon has a population of 3,200 that swells to more than 10,000 on weekends and in summer, according to the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. Avalon harbor and the island’s other moorings are popular destinations for yachts. Most the island is owned by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy. Associated Press Writers Daisy Nguyen and Christina Almeida in Los Angeles and Gillian Flaccus in Long Beach contributed to this report.