Mandatory evacuations ordered as Holy fire grows to 6,200 acres; arson suspect arrested

Mandatory evacuations ordered as Holy fire grows to 6,200 acres; arson suspect arrested

The Holy fire roared toward Lake Elsinore-area communities to the northwest of the lake in Riverside County on Wednesday, Aug. 8, prompting authorities to order residents to flee a blaze that police say was intentionally set.

Crews had hoped to hold the fire at Main Divide Road in the Cleveland National Forest. But flames crested the ridge, so residents hurriedly packed their belongings.

As the acreage burned grew by about 50 percent Wednesday to 6,200 acres, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for the Lake Elsinore-area communities of McVickers Canyon, Rice Canyon, Horsethief Canyon, Glen Eden, El Cariso Village, Sycamore Creek, Rancho Capistrano and the Ortega Highway corridor from the Grand Avenue in Riverside County to Nichols Institute in Orange County.

The flames were about a half-mile to a mile from those communities, Vickie Wright, a spokeswoman for the incident command team, said about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“We still have a fairly good distance before homes are damaged,” she said.

That gap could close quickly if winds pick up, said another official, spokesman Thanh Nguyen. Officials were wary of the fire’s ability to branch out in different directions through drainage basins, and the possibility that erratic winds — brought on by thunderstorms to the east and the south — would push the flames in unpredictable directions, Nguyen added.

Officials planned an aggressive attack Wednesday night on the steep terrain with anticipated higher humidity, he said.

“We will try to take advantage of the weather tonight, but they have the challenge of areas that are really difficult to get to,” Nguyen said.

Those evacuating the Ortega corridor were required to travel westbound only. Residents of the El Cariso area who are pulling a livestock trailer will be allowed in to get their livestock but must exit to the west, the California Highway Patrol said.

Also Wednesday, officials announced the arrest of a man who they believe set the fire in Orange County. Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, is expected to appear in court on Thursday to answer to charges of arson, felony threat to terrorize and resisting arrest.

The fire was 5 percent contained midday Wednesday. Containment is the percentage of the fire’s perimeter that firefighters have determined the blaze will no long spread beyond.

Hundreds of firefighters continued to fight the blaze from the ground and the air as it burned in terrain that is steep and difficult to access. The effort included the Global SuperTanker, a Boeing 747 capable of dropping 18,500 gallons of retardant — about 7,000 gallons more than the capacity of Cal Fire’s largest air tanker.

Fire officials were keeping an eye on the fire as it approached Santiago Peak, where communications towers for cell phones, two-way radios such as those used by law enforcement and airliner internet service are located.

“It’s critical infrastructure for us,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Rasmussen said. “It’s a major point to protect.”

Deputy Robyn Flores, a spokeswoman for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, said 911 service would not be affected.

Officials had hoped that milder temperatures Wednesday would help the firefighters. But any relief was minimal: Lake Elsinore was 100 degrees, down from 108 on Tuesday; Corona’s high temperature Wednesday of 96 was down from Tuesday’s high of 99.

The cooling trend is expected to continue with temperatures sliding into the upper-80s by the weekend.


But despite optimism about the weather, the blaze grew Wednesday.

When the blaze made it over the ridge, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, posted a photo and plea on Twitter asking Riverside County residents in the potential path of the fire to heed evacuation orders.

Wednesday morning, smoke-darkened skies near the Riverside County neighborhoods as the flames in the distance gave off an ominous glow.

The smoke from the fire is affecting communities, including those in San Bernardino County, prompting the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District to issue a smoke advisory for residents in the Mojave Desert Air Basin. The South Coast Air Quality Management District similarly extended a smoke health advisory for Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties through Thursday morning at least.

Some schools in the area will be closed Thursday out of concern over the air quality. Schools in the Perris Union High School District, the Menifee Unified School District and the Romoland School District will be closed.

The Lake Elsinore Unified School District cited the evacuations in closing Luiseño School, Rice Canyon Elementary, Terra Cotta Middle School and Withrow Elementary until further notice

“If you can smell smoke, you’re breathing smoke,” said a statement released by the MDAQMD on Tuesday. “When smoke is present, residents should avoid excessive outdoor exercise or activity. Children, seniors, people with heart or lung disease and physically active adults are at greatest risk during poor air-quality events.”

The San Bernardino County Department of Public Health issued a smoke advisory for residents of the county warning “residents with sensitive health conditions who live near areas affected by the Holy Fire to stay alert to changing smoke levels and be prepared to act accordingly,” in a statement.

County officials advise those with sensitivity to smoke and pollutants to remain indoors, to use recirculated air in their home or car air conditioning systems and to call a doctor immediately if they begin to feel ill or have symptoms of respiratory distress.

Holy Jim and part of the Trabuco Canyon area, both communities that are home to rustic cabins, were evacuated Monday shortly after the fire was first reported just after 1 p.m. Monday near Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Creek roads in the Orange County portion of the Cleveland National Forest.

The Blue Jay and El Cariso campgrounds were also under evacuation orders, officials said.

Riverside County Animal Services officers were accepting domestic pets at a care and reception center, Temescal Canyon High at 18760 El Toro Road in Lake Elsinore.

The animal evacuation center at Animal Friends of the Valley in Wildomar was at capacity, Riverside County Animal Services said.

Livestock can be boarded at Elsinore High at 21800 Canyon Drive, Wildomar in the care of Animal Services.

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