Flames from Apple Fire
Flames from the Apple Fire in Cherry Valley. Courtesy OnScene.TV

A wildfire burning in Riverside County’s Cherry Valley that has charred 1,720 acres, threatened dozens of homes and prompted mandatory evacuation throughout the community was 0% contained Saturday morning.

Two possible arson fires were reported at 5 p.m Friday in the area of Apple Tree Lane and Oak Glen Road, on the north end of the unincorporated community bordering Beaumont and merged into one by 5:45 p.m., according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

A few cars, a structure and a boat burned in the fire by 8 p.m. Friday, KCAL9 reported.

Thirty engine crews and 10 hand crews, numbering well over 200 personnel, were sent to the location and encountered the three blazes coalescing in a drainage with heavy vegetation.

The Orange County Fire Authority sent a strike team consisting of five engines and a strike team leader and a crew of wildland firefighters to assist Riverside County firefighters. Anaheim Fire and Rescue crews also assisted firefighters in Cherry Valley.

A third possible arson fire was also reported in the area and had burned 60 to 80 acres as of 7 p.m., according to reports from the scene.

Four Cal Fire air tankers and two water-dropping helicopters were immediately summoned to make runs on the wildfires, but those runs stopped at sunset.

“We lost the air support at sundown, we can’t fly anymore, so it’s all about ground troops” Riverside County fire Capt. Fernando Herrera told NBC4. “The fire itself made a move to the east.”

Sheriff’s deputies shut down Oak Glen Road between Cherry Valley Boulevard and Wildwood Canyon Road, and shortly before 6 p.m., multiple streets came under mandatory evacuation orders, impacting an estimated 1,000 residents in 150 homes, officials said.

One street under threat was Avenida Miravilla, where flames were approaching several properties.

Evacuations were ordered for residents in the Banning Bench area and a hard road closure was in place along North Sunset Avenue at Wilson Street and North San Gorgonio Avenue at Summit Drive, according to the Banning Police Department.

Evacuation orders were extended at 11 p.m. to north of Cherry Valley Boulevard, between Beaumont and Highland Springs avenues, the Riverside County Fire Department said.

A temporary evacuation center was established at Beaumont High School, 39139 Cherry Valley Blvd., and anyone who goes there is subject to COVID-19 testing before being allowed inside, Herrera said.

At the request of the fire department, Southern California Edison turned off electricity along Oak Glen Road and on surrounding side streets to prevent additional fires from breaking out as burned power poles collapsed and dropped transmission lines.

The practice is known as a “public safety power shutoff.”

Witnesses called 911 as the fires started, stating a man was seen walking along Apple Tree Lane, igniting each blaze. Arson investigators were dispatched to the area.

Along with county fire crews and Orange County and Anaheim Fire and Rescue firefighters, personnel from the Calimesa, Morongo, Murrieta, Palm Springs, Pechanga, San Bernardino and Soboba fire departments were sent to assist under a mutual aid request.

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