A deadly 2,400-acre wildfire that prompted evacuations south of Hemet was being fought on all flanks from the air and ground Tuesday, continuing to expand southeast of the city.
The Fairview Fire was reported shortly after 2 p.m. Monday on Fairview Avenue and Bautista Road, and had burned 2,000 acres by 10 p.m., according to the Riverside County Fire Department.
The blaze widened to 2,400 acres by daybreak Tuesday, with containment at 5%, according to the agency. There was a potential for expansion to 7,000 acres, depending on winds and other conditions, officials said.
Schools were closed in the Hemet Unified School District Tuesday.
At least four Cal Fire air tankers and two water-dropping helicopters were summoned to make runs on the brusher Tuesday morning.
A temporary flight restriction was established directly over the brusher, barring civilian aircraft from coming within five miles of it.
Winds were expected to pick up by mid-afternoon, blowing to the southeast at 12 mph, with gusts to 20 mph, according to the National Weather Service. As of 11:30 a.m., the temperature was 101 degrees, with a forecast high of 109 in the Hemet Valley, the NWS said.
It was unknown how much the torrid, dry conditions might impact crews’ efforts to establish containment lines.
The blaze was concentrated in the unincorporated communities south and east of Hemet.
Officials said the fire resulted in two civilian fatalities and one civilian burn injury. Details on the two deaths were sparse, with fire officials saying only that the people were attempting to flee the flames when they were overcome. The victims were in the same general location, but it was unclear if they were related or connected in any way, officials said.
At least seven buildings were destroyed and several more were damaged.
Evacuations were ordered for an area south of Stetson Avenue, north of Cactus Valley Road, west of Bautista Canyon and east of State Street. Sheriff’s deputies were making house calls to enforce the evacuation order, according to county fire Capt. Richard Cordova.
He estimated that some 1,500 homes were affected by the evacuation order.
An evacuation warning was issued for an area north of Cactus Valley Road and east of Stetson, where residents were urged to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice.
Another evacuation warning was issued late Monday for Bautista Canyon Road, south of Stetson and north of the Two Streams Fork trailhead.
An evacuation center was set up at Tahquitz High School at 4425 Titan Trail, Hemet. Officials said evacuees could bring their small animals to the center, where personnel would assist with evacuated pets.
Caltrans said the following corridors were closed to southbound traffic in East Hemet: Stanford Street, Dartmouth Street, Cornell Street, Aurora Drive, Columbia Street, Yale Street, Girard Street, San Jacinto Street, Santa Fe Street, Meridian Street, Hemet Street, Lake Street and Fairview Avenue.
Cordova said the fire was well underway by the time firefighters arrived, with east winds gusting at 15 to 25 mph at the time of ignition, according to the NWS.
Smoke from the fire could be seen as far as the Orange County coast.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced early Tuesday that California has secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help ensure the availability of vital resources to suppress the Fairview Fire.
The grant will enable local, state and tribal agencies responding to the fire to apply for 75% reimbursement of their eligible fire suppression costs.
The cause of the fire was under investigation. In a document filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, Southern California Edison reported “circuit activity” in the area close to the time the fire erupted.