All mandatory evacuations associated with the Apple Fire were lifted Tuesday in Riverside County as the fire continued to rage in the mountains within the San Bernardino National Forest.
The fire has charred 26,850 acres, destroyed 12 structures, injured one firefighter and was still only 15% contained as of late Tuesday afternoon.
Evacuation orders were lifted in the unincorporated areas east of Oak Glen Road, west of Potrero Road, and north of Wilson Street, although non-mandatory warnings were still in effect east of Potrero Road, north of Morongo Road and west of Whitewater Canyon, the U.S. Forest Service reported.
In San Bernardino County, mandatory evacuation orders were unaffected east of Oak Glen Road. Non-mandatory evacuation warnings in San Bernardino County also remained in effect in Forest Falls, Rimrock and Pioneertown.
According to Cal Fire investigators, the massive blaze that started in Cherry Valley 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 USFS 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 USFS 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.
Officials estimated that 2,600 residences and 7,800 people have been evacuated since the blaze began.
The American Red Cross reported Monday night that its volunteers had found lodging at nearby hotels for 114 people, and that its volunteers would remain in the area Tuesday serving food to evacuees.
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.
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.
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