Southern California Wildfire Explodes to 26,000 Acres

A firefighter watches a brush fire at the Apple Fire in Banning, Calif., on Saturday. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

(CN) — Evacuation orders remain in place for thousands of Southern California residents as more than 1,200 firefighters battle a massive wildfire that has burned over 26,000 acres in the mountains east of Los Angeles, state officials said Monday.

The Apple Fire — which has now spread across Riverside and San Bernardino counties — is just 5% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire.

Fire investigators said Monday they believe a vehicle malfunction caused the fire.

According to a statement released by the Riverside County Fire Department, investigators who spoke to witnesses and examined physical evidence concluded a diesel vehicle leaking burning carbon from its exhaust system sparked the flames.

The wildfire began Friday as two separate fires in Cherry Valley, an unincorporated area about 90 miles east of LA. No injuries or deaths have been reported, although at least one home has been destroyed.

About 8,000 residents are covered by evacuation orders for communities in the canyons, foothills, and mountain communities in the area scorched by the 26,450-acre fire.

Helicopters, air tankers and ground crews are battling the blaze in rugged terrain that includes steep hillsides not accessible to firefighting vehicles, officials said.

Firefighters fought the wildfire flames over the weekend in triple-digit temperatures as the Southern California counties languish in a heatwave. Nearby Palm Springs saw temperatures over 110 degrees over the weekend.

With flames expected to continue for the foreseeable future, officials are warning residents to stay away from the area. Affected residents have been directed to an evacuation center set up at Beaumont High School, and Riverside County residents can enter their home address on a county website to see if they’re included in the evacuation area. 

In San Bernardino, the city of Oak Glen is under an evacuation order. Evacuation warnings have been issued for the communities of Forest Falls, Pioneer Town, and Rim Rock.

A mandatory closure order remains in place for the San Gorgonio Wilderness, including the portion of the popular Pacific Crest Trail inside the area, officials said. 

Campgrounds and hiking trails in the San Bernardino National Forest are also closed. 

Officials are asking potential witnesses who may have seen the fire to call an anonymous hotline at 800-633-2836.

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