A fire that started in Cherry Valley and is raging in the mountains within the San Bernardino National Forest has injured one firefighter, destroyed 12 structures, burned 26,850 acres and was 15% contained Tuesday morning.
According to Cal Fire investigators, the blaze was sparked by a malfunctioning diesel vehicle that was leaking burning matter from its exhaust pipe, triggering three separate blazes that eventually merged into one about 5 p.m. Friday in the area of Apple Tree Lane and Oak Glen Road.
Fire officials are estimating the blaze could be fully contained as soon as Aug. 17, according to Kate Kramer, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.
The head of the Apple Fire is on a mountainside in San Bernardino County, according to the USFS. Two Cal Fire air tankers and 12 water-dropping helicopters were working to establish containment boundaries, as more than 2,500 personnel on the ground gradually attempted to encircle the brusher.
The fire is continuing to spread north, deeper into San Bernardino County, and east into the San Gorgonio wilderness, according to fire officials. Overnight, firefighters continued building containment line along the south, southeast and southwestern areas of the fire’s perimeter, leading to the increased containment percentage reported Tuesday morning.
“Fire activity is being driven primarily by record low moisture content of the vegetation combined with high temperatures and low relative humidity,” the forest service said.
One U.S. Forest Service firefighter suffered minor injuries overnight, Kramer said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state will receive a Fire Management Assistance Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help ensure resources will be available to fight the brush fire. The grant will also allow local, state and tribal agencies responding to the fire to apply for 75% reimbursement of their eligible costs, the governor said.
Evacuations were in place in both Riverside and San Bernardino counties. An emergency closure order was put in place Sunday prohibiting all entry into the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area, including the Pacific Crest Hiking Trail between the Forest Boundary and Forest Road 1N01.
Residents north of Wilson Street, east of Sunset Avenue and west of Hathaway Street in Banning were ordered to evacuate at 2:15 p.m. Saturday as flames crept toward the neighborhood, according to the Riverside County Emergency Management Department.
Under evacuation orders since Friday were residents in the Banning Bench area, and those north of Cherry Valley Boulevard between Beaumont and Highland Springs avenues, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.
Officials estimated that 2,600 residences and 7,800 people have been evacuated and said they do not have a time frame for lifting the evacuations.
A temporary evacuation center was established at Beaumont High School, 39139 Cherry Valley Blvd. The American Red Cross was additionally assisting evacuees by putting them in hotels.
Riverside County residents were encouraged to visit www.rivcoready.org/ActiveEvents for an interactive map, where they can enter their address and see if they are in an evacuation area. They can also follow https://twitter.com/RivCoReady for updates.
On Sunday morning, management of the incident transitioned to California Interagency Incident Management Team (IMT) 2. A public information line was established at 909-383-5688.
A single-family home and two outbuildings were destroyed near Avenida Miravilla, adding to the destruction of a few cars, a structure and a boat reported Friday night.
The smoke column from the fire was visible throughout much of Southern California.
Along with county fire crews, personnel from the Calimesa, Morongo, Murrieta, Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Huntington Beach, Hemet, Pechanga, San Bernardino, Soboba, Los Angeles and Los Angeles County fire departments were sent to assist under a mutual aid request.
At the request of fire commanders, Southern California Edison turned off electricity along Oak Glen Road and 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.”
Initially, two 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. Firefighters sent to the location encountered three blazes coalescing in a drainage with heavy vegetation.
Reports initially indicated witnesses saw a man walking along the roadway igniting fires amid dry and brittle conditions and triple-digit heat, but Cal Fire debunked those rumors and said black soot belching from a diesel exhaust pipe sparked the fire.
“The determination is reinforced by multiple independent witnesses, as well as supporting physical evidence,” according to a Riverside County Fire Department statement.
Anyone with further information about the start of the fires was urged to call the Cal Fire hotline at 800-633-2836. Callers may remain anonymous.