Southern California Wildfire Grows to Over 26,000 Acres

The Apple Fire continues to burn through Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Exhaust from a diesel vehicle is reported to have started the fire on Friday that forced thousands to flee their homes and burned over 26,000 acres. (Courthouse News photo/Nathan Solis)

BEAUMONT, Calif. (CN) — A Southern California wildfire that ignited last week marks one of the first major California events during the Covid-19 era, burning across two counties and forcing thousands to flee their homes.

Over 100 residents forced to leave their homes in Riverside County because of the Apple Fire are being housed in nearby hotels Red Cross spokesperson Roberto Rivera said visitors to the temporary shelter at the Beaumont High School have their temperatures checked and are then sent to nearby motels to allow for social distancing.

Residents in the neighborhood north of Banning Canyon and south of the San Bernardino National Forest were allowed to return home four days after they were ordered to evacuate.

The Banning Bench hillside behind Andre Torres home on Friday night was aglow with flames, and on Tuesday afternoon the hill that leads into his backyard was charred.

“I feel relieved to see my home here,” Torres said. “We’re just all so grateful to the firefighters who were able to save the homes, save the neighborhood really.”

Airtankers and helicopters dropped water and bright pink retardant around the neighborhood with its picturesque views of the canyon below, according to resident Richard Clark.

“On Saturday afternoon is when all hell broke loose,” Clark said. “That’s when the fires were so strong and really picked up.”

“We were told to evacuate on Friday evening and I decided to stay. Then we were told to really evacuate on Saturday morning around 1 a.m.,” Clark said. “You couldn’t see in front of you because of the smoke.”

While he left for a few hours to sleep in nearby Palm Springs, Clark says he felt like he never left.

Banning Bench resident Richard Clark sits atop a propane tank outside his home after the Apple Fire burned through the Riverside County neighborhood. (Courthouse News Service photo/Nathan Solis)

“I didn’t leave and it didn’t get too bad. Well, we didn’t hear the propane tank explode so that was good,” Clark said, sitting on top of the tank outside his home.

Scorch marks dotted the landscape around Clark’s home and an outdoor shed was destroyed along with some lumber.

One home was destroyed in nearby Cherry Valley and the fire continues to rage in steep terrain areas, according to CalFire. 

Capt. Fernando Herrera with CalFire said the Apple Fire has destroyed 12 structures, including some homes in Riverside County, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles.

The fire has burned over 26,000 acres as of Tuesday and continues to spread on multiple fronts, including toward the San Bernardino National Forest in the north and the Morongo Indian Reservation in the east, said Herrera.

CalFire put containment at 15% as of Tuesday afternoon and while there are only light winds in the area, they are expected to pick up later in the day. The fire has burned through 42 square miles of dry brush that has not seen a fire in years, said Herrera.

Fire investigators say the fire began Friday evening around 6 p.m. in Cherry Valley. Witnesses said the blaze was started by a “diesel operated vehicle” blowing hot exhaust onto dry brush. Firefighters were able to follow multiple spot fires to the origin of the blaze, according to Herrera.

Roughly 7,800 people fled their homes over the weekend as the fire swept through the foothill community of Oak Glen in Riverside County.

According to NASA, air temperatures have soared above 100 degrees, stressing vegetation and turning the area into a tinderbox. NASA’s Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) measures the amount of heat plants build up as they run out of water.

The system has also measured the fire itself, showing temperatures that have ranged from 390 to 1,290 degrees in the burn zone, with and a peak of 1,387 degrees.

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