A brush fire possibly triggered by lightning erupted Wednesday just west of Murrieta, blackening nearly 1,000 acres and prompting evacuations.
The non-injury blaze was reported about 3:55 p.m. in the area of Clinton Keith and Tenaja roads, in the unincorporated community of La Cresta, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.
As of about 9 p.m., the blaze had burned 994 acres, officials said. An hour earlier, the fire department reported the fire was 5% contained with about 250 acres burned.
The agency reported 44 engine crews and seven hand crews, numbering about 500 personnel, were sent to the location and encountered flames in heavy vegetation, spreading to the north.
Along with county crews, firefighters from Murrieta Fire & Rescue and other agencies were working to contain the fire, which slowed as nightfall approached.
About 10 p.m., the Murrieta Valley Unified School District announced all of its schools would be closed Thursday.
“This measure was taken in consideration for the safety and well-being of our students, staff and their families,” the district said in a post on its Facebook page.
“In addition, with the number of mandatory and voluntary evacuations in place and road closures in the area of the fire, we anticipate students, staff and teachers would have difficulty getting to school sites (Thursday).”
All residents on The Trails Circle were evacuated, and the Santa Rosa Plateau Visitor Center was shuttered, as the flames moved along the western side of Clinton Keith Road, crossing ridges.
A care and reception center was established for displaced residents at Murrieta Mesa High School. Small animals were being accepted at that location. Accommodations for larger animals were available at the San Jacinto Animal Shelter.
Six Cal Fire air tankers and three water-dropping helicopters made runs on the blaze, but pulled out by 8 p.m. due to poor visibility.
Clinton Keith Road was closed south of Avenida La Cresta, and Tenaja Road was shut down between Via Volcano and Clinton Keith Road for public safety and to give crews freedom to maneuver.
A battalion chief at the scene said the flames appeared to be headed toward an old burn scar, which could starve the flames of fuel overnight.
A thunderstorm cell moved through the area just prior to the fire, and it’s suspected that a lightning strike ignited it.
Power lines were reported down at the location.