Fueled by thick, tinder-dry vegetation that hasn’t burned in nearly four decades, a brush fire raced through the Cleveland National Forest in the Holy Jim Canyon area, rapidly exploding in size as flames gobbled up acreage from Orange County into Riverside County.
The “Holy Fire” was reported about 1:15 p.m., near Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Creek roads, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito, but a spokeswoman for the Cleveland National Forest said it might have been closer to 2 p.m.
Initially reported at seven-to-10 acres, the fire raced its way across 75 acres within 30 minutes. As of about 8:15 p.m., the fire had scorched around 4,000 acres and zero containment with a “moderate rate of spread,” rolling downhill toward the Main Divide forest road, within sight of south Corona, El Cerrito and Glen Ivy Hot Springs, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Roughly a dozen water-dropping aircraft were used to help control the blaze, with the U.S. Forest Service taking the lead in coordinating efforts to douse the blaze. Nighttime air operations were ordered.
About 600 firefighters were deployed as temperatures hovered around 100, even at the higher elevations.
Two firefighters reported heat-related injuries, and they are expected to recover.
Burning amid minimal wind, the blaze sent up a massive cloud of smoke that could be seen for miles in all directions. Smoke from the fire tinted the skies above Corona, Riverside and Moreno Valley, turning the atmosphere a rust brown as nightfall approached.
At least one cabin was engulfed by flames, Bommarito said. A second structure was also damaged or destroyed in the fire according to a broadcast report.
Precautionary evacuation orders were issued for the sparsely populated Holy Jim community and Trabuco Canyon area, home to dozens of weekend cabins. All campgrounds in the Trabuco Ranger District were closed and forest road closures were in effect for Trabuco Creek, Maple Springs, North Main Divide, Bedford and Indian Truck Trail. Also, Blue Jay Campground and El Cariso Campground off Highway 74 were evacuated.
Crews from Orange County, Riverside County and Cal Fire were working through the dense vegetation to attempt to get a line around the blaze, but there was no likelihood of containment overnight or even Tuesday, according to reports from the scene.
Cal Fire air tankers and water-dropping helicopters were requested to conduct aerial fire attack operations beyond sunset.
Bommarito noted that the area probably hasn’t burned since about 1980.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District warned that during the overnight and early morning hours, downslope winds could bring smoke into the valleys west and southwest of the fire. Portions of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties were likely to be impacted.
“Air quality may reach unhealthy levels or higher in areas directly impacted by smoke,” according to an SCAQMD statement.
The OCFA said residents in the Holy Jim area can call the fire hotline at (714) 628-7085 for updates.