Rain generated by remnants of Tropical Storm Kay helped fire crews slow the spread of the deadly Fairview Fire southeast of Hemet, with ground crews reaching 40% containment Saturday and authorities reducing some evacuation orders to voluntary warnings.
Saturday afternoon, officials said the fire had burned 28,307 acres, with containment rising to 40% from the 5% figure, which had not changed since Monday.
Fire officials warned, however, that the “much-need precipitation,” combined with high winds and heat can still lead to unpredictable fire behavior, so residents being allowed to return to their homes were “highly encouraged to remain alert during this dynamic incident.”
As of 4 p.m. Saturday, the area of west of the U.S. Forest Service boundary, north of Wilson Valley Road and Reed Valley Road, east of Sage Road, and south of Stanley Road no longer required mandatory evacuations, as they became voluntary. The same held true for the area of west of Sage Road, north of East Benton Road, east of De Portola Road, south of Cactus Valley Road, and Larking Lane.
Evacuation warnings were lifted for the area south of Diamond Valley Lake, east of Washington Street, north of Borel Road, east of Rancho California Road, east of Anza Road, north of state Route 79, northwest of Highway 371 and west of state Route 74, south of the U.S. Forest Service Boundary to include the Ramona Indian Reservation and Olivet University, the Riverside County Fire Department announced Saturday.
Earliwe Saturday afternoon, the area of east of State Street, south of Stetson Avenue, west of Fairview Avenue and north of Cactus Valley Road was reduced to an evacuation warning, the Riverside County Fire Department announced. Gibble Road, Polly Butte Road, Avery Canyon Road and Arvidson Road were reduced to an evacuation warning at the same time.
The onset of stormy weather prompted incident commanders to pull Cal Fire aircraft out of the firefighting operation late Friday morning. The operation lasted for about an hour and a half before Friday’s high winds shut it down.
Firefighters were concerned by scattered showers and possible thunderstorms again Saturday. Winds were expected to be slower at 20 to 30 mph, incident meteorologist Matt Mehle said. Friday’s wind gusts were at 68 mph in the area of Idyllwild while lower elevation areas like Hemet stayed at 30 to 40 mph.
The National Weather Service had issued a flood watch and a high wind warning for the area, with authorities saying as much as 7 inches of rain could fall before the storms dissipate, raising the likelihood of flash floods, mud and debris flows. The flood watch warning is effective through midnight Saturday.
The inclement weather was due to Tropical Storm Kay, off the southwestern coast of the United States, which had been a hurricane before hitting the Baja peninsula in Mexico.
“Based on forecasts, this appears to be a dangerous storm,” county Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton said late in the week, urging motorists to take precautions and not attempt to cross flooded roads.
Sandbags were available at fire stations and hardware stores in Riverside County.
Cal Fire officials have said they hope to have the fire contained by early next week, an objective that appeared more feasible with the arrival of the rain.
On Thursday, Cal Fire announced that the area east of De Portola Road, west of Sage Road, north of East Benton Road and south of Diamond Valley Road was under a mandatory evacuation.
Around the same time, a new evacuation warning was posted south of Rawson Road, east of Washington Street and Anza Road, west of Highway 74 and north of Highways 79 and 371, where residents were advised to be prepared to leave should conditions change for the worse.
Mandatory evacuations remained in place for residents south of Cactus Valley Road, north of Minto Way, north of Red Mountain Road, west of the U.S. Forest Service boundary and east of Sage, west of Wilson Way, south of state Route 74, east of Fairview Avenue, north of Stetson Avenue, south of Minto, south of Red Mountain, west and north of Stanley Road and east of Sage.
Other evacuation warnings were active for those living west of Reed Valley Road and west of the USFS boundary, south of Stanley and north of Wilson Valley Road.
Evacuation centers were set up at Tahquitz High School in Hemet, Temecula Valley High School and the Temecula Community Center.
Late Friday afternoon, with the pace of the fire slowing, fire officials reduced mandatory evacuation orders to voluntary warnings for the area south of Diamond Valley Lake, east of Washington Street, north of Borel Road, east of Rancho California Road, east of Anza Road north of state Route 79, northwest of Highway 371 and west of state Route 74.
Evacuation orders were also made voluntary for the Ramona Village community and Olivet University.
State Route 74 in the San Bernardino National Forest was fully closed between Mountain Center and Borco Street, in the Valle Vista area.
The Department of Animal Services said the San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus was accepting large and small domestic creatures for safekeeping. Livestock were being cared for at the Perris Fairgrounds.
All fees for retaining pets will be waived under the county emergency order, agency spokesman John Welsh said.
The fire was initially reported shortly after 2 p.m. Monday on Fairview Avenue and Bautista Road.
Cal Fire established unified command with the USFS Wednesday, and the Riverside County Emergency Management Department declared a local emergency, enabling the county to apply for federal and state relief. The Board of Supervisors is slated to formally approve the proclamation during its meeting Tuesday. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency covering the fire zone earlier this week.
Officials said the fire resulted in two civilian deaths and one civilian burn injury. Sheriff’s officials confirmed Wednesday the two deceased victims were found inside a vehicle in the 42400 block of Avery Canyon Road in East Hemet Monday, apparently overcome by the flames while trying to leave.
The victims have not been formally identified by authorities, but friends identified them to reporters as Ian Compton and his autistic daughter Mikayla Porter. Friends said their family pets were also killed. Compton’s wife, Tina, was severely burned and remains hospitalized.
A sheriff’s official said Wednesday the woman, who was found outside the vehicle on Avery Canyon Road, is expected to survive.
At least 13 buildings have been destroyed and four have been damaged. Friends said the Comptons’ home was among the structures destroyed.
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.