The Holy Fire exploded to 6,200 acres on Wednesday as it chewed through tinder-dry brush in the Cleveland National Forest and spread closer to homes, forcing mandatory evacuations.
The fire, burning in Riverside and Orange counties, is one of more than a dozen large wildfires scorching California, including the Mendocino Complex -- the state's largest wildfire on record. Major fires also are burning in Shasta County and in and around Yosemite National Park during what could be one of the worst years for wildfires on record in California.
Mandatory evacuations were issued early Wednesday afternoon for McVickers, Rice Canyon, Horsethief, Glen Eden, El Cariso Village, Sycamore and Rancho Capistrano due to the Holy fire. The fire, believed to have been set by an arsonist, grew to more than 4,100 acres by Wednesday morning. It was less than 5-percent contained, despite daylong drops by more than a dozen firefighting aircraft.
The lip of the fire spread into rugged terrain toward Horsethief Canyon, where air tankers and helicopters made several runs to keep the flames at bay. The area has not burned since the early 1980s, leaving hillsides covered in dry brush that provides fuel for the fire.
"There will be vertical columns of smoke that signify unstable atmosphere above the fire," said Steve Rasmussen, a spokesman for the team of firefighters managing the fire. "This opens the window for changing winds."
U.S. Forest Service rangers said that the goal was to keep the flame front from rolling downhill toward Corona, Glen Ivy and surrounding communities bordering the federal land. Thanks in part to risky overnight air attack operations, the bulk of the brush fire stagnated along the North Main Divide Road in the center of the forest in the predawn hours.
Cabins throughout Holy Jim and Trabuco canyons, as well as the Blue Jay and El Cariso campgrounds, were under mandatory evacuation orders. By late Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Forest Service advised residents of the Glen Eden and Horsethief communities in the Temescal Valley, between Corona and Lake Elsinore, to evacuate the area as a precaution, though no properties were immediately threatened.
The evacuation warning followed one earlier in the day along the Ortega (74) Highway, impacting El Cariso Village, along with the Blue Jay and Rancho Capistrano communities. Officials said everyone west of the Lookout Restaurant to Nichols Road in Lake Elsinore should consider leaving the area.A care and reception center was established at Temescal Canyon High School on El Toro Road in Lake Elsinore. Voluntary evacuations were expanded Wednesday to Sycamore Creek, Glen Eden Canyon and Horsethief Canyon. A care and reception center was established at Temescal Canyon High School on El Toro Road in Lake Elsinore.
The Holy Fire first was reported about 1:15 p.m. Monday near Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Creek roads, according to Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito. About 600 firefighters were called in to try to encircle the blaze, with the USFS taking the lead, aided by personnel from Cal Fire, Corona, the OCFA and other agencies.
Temperatures rose above 100 degrees in the Corona area Tuesday afternoon, and winds blew out of the southwest at 5-10 mph. Temperatures near 100 are likely again Wednesday. Two firefighters suffered heat-related injuries Monday and were treated at a hospital. There were also reports of several unoccupied structures damaged within the forest.
Cal Fire air tankers and conducted aerial fire attack operations after sunset Monday, even though night flying is regarded as inherently dangerous. The South Coast Air Quality Management District renewed a smoke advisory Tuesday, warning of unhealthful conditions because of smoke and ash emanating from the fire and blowing over the Riverside metropolitan area, as well as other parts of the Inland Empire.
California could be facing the toughest wildfire season ever as some 18 gigantic blazes ravage the state. Some 14,000 firefighters are battling fires that have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and claimed six lives thanks to wind-whipped flames that have caused an explosive spread through vegetation left tinder-dry by years of drought.
California's largest recorded blaze -- the side-by-side fires dubbed the Mendocino Complex -- needed just 11 days to blacken an area nearly the size of Los Angeles. A deadly fire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes in the Redding area of Northern California is less than 50 percent contained.