An investigation and clean-up were underway Friday in a Moreno Valley neighborhood where a fire erupted at the end of a stolen vehicle pursuit, damaging two homes and causing dozens of residences to be evacuated.
The car chase began about 4 p.m. Thursday on Bay Avenue, where deputies spotted a vehicle with a license plate matching a sedan reported stolen and gave chase, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.
Two patrol SUVs followed the suspects as they steered off the pavement at Bay and Phyllis Avenue, heading into an open field behind homes. The sheriff’s units and the stolen car came to a stop when the man and woman in the car, neither of whom have been identified, bailed out and fled on foot, according to reports from the scene.
In 100-degree temperatures, idling in high grass, the vehicles apparently sparked a fire that quickly spread toward properties on Phyllis and Bay, as well as Ella Avenue and a portion of Ellsworth Street.
The suspects were taken into custody, and the fire accelerated in breezy conditions, reaching a storage building at 13679 Phyllis and residences at 13657 Phyllis and 22350 Ella, all of which sustained damage, officials said at the scene.
The sheriff’s vehicles and stolen car were destroyed, and other vehicles parked on Phyllis were damaged, according to published reports.
Firefighters converged on the location within a few minutes and encountered flames spreading over a five-acre space, threatening multiple properties, prompting evacuations on Bernie Avenue, as well as Ella and Phyllis, along with Ellsworth, between Ella and Cottonwood Avenue.
No injuries were reported, but more than a dozen pet birds, five cats and two dogs were rescued by animal control officers, officials said.
Evacuees were sent to Towngate Elementary School, where they were assisted by Red Cross personnel until the fire was contained, which occurred just after nightfall. The mandatory evacuation order was lifted at 10 p.m., according to the fire department.
An engine crew remains at the location Friday afternoon, mopping up.
It was unclear what liability costs the county may incur as a result of the damaged properties, and there was no word on whether the sheriff’s department will conduct an internal assessment of the pursuing deputies’ tactics, or whether the investigation will be referred to an outside agency.
When a county landscaping vehicle in August 2012 sparked a 350-acre fire in the La Cresta area, just west of Murrieta, a two-story home was destroyed and at least 11 other residences sustained damage along their property lines.
The county paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to make repairs and compensate for losses.