Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire rages on

Thou­sands evac­u­ated as two ad­ja­cent fires merge amid windy and tin­der-dry con­di­tions

Cape Argus - - WORLD -

EVAC­U­A­TION or­ders re­mained in place early yes­ter­day for thou­sands of peo­ple af­ter a wild­fire in moun­tains east of Los An­ge­les ex­ploded in size and forced crews to bat­tle flames in ex­treme heat.

The Ap­ple Fire in River­side County con­sumed more than 80 square kilo­me­tres of dry brush and tim­ber, ac­cord­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion.

As of yes­ter­day morn­ing, it was 5% con­tained. The cause was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Of­fi­cials al­lowed flames to run up the side of Mount San Gor­gonio, a 3 350m peak, be­cause it wasn’t safe to let crews work in such steep, rugged ter­rain, said Lisa Cox, a spokesper­son for the US For­est Ser­vice.

“We don’t want to put fire­fight­ers in a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion,” Cox said.

The blaze be­gan as two ad­ja­cent fires, re­ported on Fri­day night in Cherry Val­ley, an un­in­cor­po­rated area about 140km east of down­town Los An­ge­les.

Flames leapt along brushy ridge tops and came close to homes while fire­fight­ers at­tacked it from the ground and air.

One home and two out­build­ings were de­stroyed, Cal Fire said. No in­juries were re­ported.

Evac­u­a­tion or­ders and ad­vi­sories were is­sued for about 8 000 peo­ple in moun­tain, canyon and foothill neigh­bour­hoods. Camp­grounds and hik­ing trails were closed in the San Gor­gonio Wilder­ness area of the San Bernardino Na­tional For­est.

A huge smoke plume was vis­i­ble for kilo­me­tres around and con­trib­uted to poor air qual­ity.

The mer­cury hit 43ºC on Sun­day in nearby Palm Springs.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said “dan­ger­ously hot con­di­tions” were ex­pected to con­tinue be­cause of high pres­sure over much of south­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

To the north, the Pond Fire in San Luis Obispo County was 10% con­tained on Sun­day af­ter burn­ing more than six square kilo­me­tres of brush east of Santa Mar­garita. The blaze de­stroyed two struc­tures, but of­fi­cials said it was un­clear whether they were homes.

Miguel Miller, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist with the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice in San Diego, said the pat­tern of winds strength­en­ing in the late af­ter­noons and evenings would prob­a­bly per­sist for the next sev­eral days.

“It’s not any­thing out­ra­geous or very strong, but it’s enough to push the fire around a lit­tle bit,” he said.

An evac­u­a­tion cen­tre for peo­ple and an­i­mals was opened at Beau­mont High School, where the Amer­i­can Red Cross ar­ranged ho­tel rooms for 32 peo­ple from about 10 house­holds on Satur­day night, re­gional dis­as­ter of­fi­cer Deb­bie Leahy said on Sun­day.

The evac­u­a­tion cen­tre was staffed by vol­un­teers who were trained in Covid-19 safety pro­to­cols and out­fit­ted with face cov­er­ings, and so­cial dis­tanc­ing was strictly ob­served, she said.

All who en­tered had to un­dergo a brief health screen­ing, and nurses were also con­duct­ing daily tele­phone screen­ings of the evac­uees who were placed in ho­tel rooms, she said.

“We’re in a Covid en­vi­ron­ment, and then if we have these wild­fires at that, it com­pli­cates the sit­u­a­tion,” she said.

“But if we just all fo­cus on safety, we’re go­ing to be okay.”

The US For­est Ser­vice on Satur­day or­dered an emer­gency clo­sure of the San Gor­gonio Wilder­ness, in­clud­ing the Pa­cific Crest Trail, be­tween the for­est bound­ary and For­est Road 1N01.

For­est Ser­vice recre­ation ar­eas in the For­est Falls area were also closed.

For­est Ser­vice recre­ation staff and vol­un­teers vis­ited trail­heads to let hik­ers and back­pack­ers know that the wilder­ness area was closed, and on Satur­day an­nounce­ments were also made via he­li­copter, Cox said.

“They’re not in dan­ger right at this mo­ment, but we pre-emp­tively want to make sure they have enough time to get out,” she said.

FIRE­FIGHT­ERS watch the Ap­ple Fire in Ban­ning, Cal­i­for­nia. | Ringo Chiu | AP

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