A wildfire possibly ignited by lightning just west of Murrieta remained at 2,000 acres and was 25% contained late Friday afternoon, but a much-traveled street near the blaze remained closed, with authorities permitting only intermittent movement on it.
The “Tenaja” blaze was reported about 3:55 p.m. Wednesday in the area of Clinton Keith and Tenaja roads in the unincorporated community of La Cresta, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.
All evacuation orders affecting hundreds of homes were lifted Friday morning and changed to warnings, with officials advising that flare-ups could prompt mandatory evacuations again. However, officials indicated steady progress was being made encircling the fire.
Clinton Keith Road, a primary north-south route through La Cresta, was still out of service between Chantory Street to Avenida La Cresta. However, county fire officials said the California Highway Patrol was permitting periodic limited movement on the roadway, under escort by officers. It was hoped the artery would be fully re-opened Saturday.
Cal Fire Division Chief Todd Hopkins had expressed concern during a briefing Thursday that the so-called “Elsinore Effect” would turn winds erratic and create more hazards Friday, but the event did not materialize.
Nearly 900 firefighters from Riverside County, Cal Fire, Murrieta Fire & Rescue, the Hemet Fire Department, Corona Fire Department, the Orange County Fire Authority and U.S. Forest Service were battling the blaze. One firefighter suffered a non-life threatening injury, officials said.
Two homes sustained minor damage, according to Hopkins. Another 1,200 homes were threatened at the height of the fire, he said.
“Crews have been doing an excellent job getting into difficult areas and stopping the flames before they damage structures,” Hopkins said.
Murrieta Police Department Chief Sean Hadden said 570 properties were evacuated at one point.
All residents on Belcara Place, Botanica Place, Lone Oak Way, Montanya Place, The Trails Circle and Copper Canyon North and South, between Clinton Keith Road and Murrieta Creek Drive, were placed under mandatory evacuation orders, while areas of Bear Creek were under a voluntary evacuation warning. The Santa Rosa Plateau Visitor Center was closed Wednesday.
All evacuation orders were suspended Friday morning.
Just over 100 engine crews and 30 hand crews were fighting the fire, aided by six Cal Fire air tankers and several water-dropping helicopters, most of which returned to their bases well before dark Friday.
All schools in the Murrieta Valley, Lake Elsinore, Menifee Union and Romoland Unified school districts were closed, with officials citing the impact the fire on students and staff as the reason for canceling classes.
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.
The Riverside County Department of Public Health issued an air quality advisory, warning residents north and east of the Tenaja blaze that fire debris could have negative health impacts.
“Ash and smoke can be hard on anyone to breathe, but especially those with lung disease,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer. “Everyone worries about the flames, but smoke can impact you even if you’re miles away from the fire.”
Kaiser recommended young children and those in sensitive health to stay indoors and run air conditioners — with unobstructed filters — to minimize the effects of smoke and ash.