A fast-moving wildfire fueled by thick, tinder-dry vegetation that hasn’t burned in nearly four decades was 2 percent contained Tuesday morning after charring 4,000 acres in the Holy Jim Canyon area of the Cleveland National Forest, prompting evacuations.
The “Holy Fire” was reported about 1:15 p.m. Monday near Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Creek roads, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito said.
About 300 firefighters were battling the blaze, with another 300 expected to be added to the fire lines throughout the day, Bommarito said. With so many wildfires throughout the state, the firefighting personnel has been spread thin, he said.
The fire was spreading on all sides, but firefighters were particularly worried about the northeast flank, where the flames were a few miles away from homes, said Kathy Kramer, a spokeswoman for the unified fire management team led by the Cleveland National Forest and the Riverside branch of Cal Fire.
High temperatures, low humidity and steep terrain are major hurdles, Kramer said.
“This is supposed to be our hottest day of the week with temperatures expected in the low 100s with 15 to 18 percent humidity,” Kramer said. “It’s pretty dry and the vegetation is dry, and the topography is quite a challenge.”
Trabuco and Holy Jim canyons were under mandatory evacuation orders, as well as the Blue Jay and El Cariso campgrounds. 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.
Firefighters advised residents in Horse Thief Canyon and Sycamore Creek to be on high alert and ready to go, Kramer said.
The fire was burning downhill toward the Main Divide forest road at a “moderate rate of speed,” within sight of Corona, El Cerrito and Glen Ivy Hot Springs, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Two firefighters were treated for heat-related injuries.
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.
At least one cabin was destroyed by the flames.
Crews from Orange County, Riverside County and Cal Fire were working through the dense vegetation to get a line around the blaze, but there was no likelihood of extensive early containment.
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 affected.
“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.