Crews battling a 4,000-acre wildfire fueled by tinder-dry vegetation in the Cleveland National Forest continued Tuesday to work their way around the blaze, which drew closer to populated areas, prompting voluntary evacuations.
By late afternoon, the U.S. Forest Service advised residents of the Glen Eden and Horsethief communities in the Temescal Valley, between Corona and Lake Elsinore, to evacuate the area as a precaution, though no properties were immediately threatened.
The evacuation warning followed one earlier in the day along the Ortega (74) Highway, impacting El Cariso Village, along with the Blue Jay and Rancho Capistrano communities. Officials said everyone west of the Lookout Restaurant to Nichols Road in Lake Elsinore should consider leaving the area.
A care and reception center was established at Temescal Canyon High School on El Toro Road in Lake Elsinore.
As of 5 p.m., the “Holy Fire” was less than 5 percent contained, despite daylong drops by more than a dozen firefighting aircraft. The lip of the fire spread into rugged terrain toward Horsethief Canyon, where air tankers and helicopters made several runs to keep the flames at bay, according to reports from the scene.
U.S. Forest Service rangers said that the goal was to keep the flame front from rolling downhill toward Corona, Glen Ivy and surrounding communities bordering the federal land.
Thanks in part to risky overnight air attack operations, the bulk of the brush fire stagnated along the North Main Divide Road in the center of the forest in the predawn hours. Cabins throughout Holy Jim and Trabuco canyons, as well as the Blue Jay and El Cariso campgrounds, were under mandatory evacuation orders.
The Holy Fire first was reported about 1:15 p.m. Monday near Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Creek roads, according to Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito.
About 600 firefighters were called in to try to encircle the blaze, with the USFS taking the lead, aided by personnel from Cal Fire, Corona, the OCFA and other agencies.
Temperatures rose above 100 degrees in the Corona area Tuesday afternoon, and winds blew out of the southwest at 5-10 mph.
Two firefighters suffered heat-related injuries Monday and were treated at a hospital. There were also reports of several unoccupied structures damaged within the forest.
Cal Fire air tankers and conducted aerial fire attack operations after sunset Monday, even though night flying is regarded as inherently dangerous.
Bommarito noted that the area probably hasn’t burned since about 1980.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District renewed a smoke advisory Tuesday, warning of unhealthful conditions because of smoke and ash emanating from the fire and blowing over the Riverside metropolitan area, as well as other parts of the Inland Empire.
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