Hundreds of firefighters responded to a fire that broke out deep in the Cleveland National Forest, a few miles southwest of Wildomar, and forced evacuations in as it tore through brush in Riverside County.
About 200 homes were under mandatory evacuation orders due to flames that consumed about 850 acres. The evacuations were lifted as the blaze was at 50 percent containment Friday night.
No injuries have been reported and no structures have burned.
The blaze was reported about 12:30 p.m. Thursday in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness area, south of the Ortega (74) Highway and Main Divide Road, and was burning in an easterly direction as of late afternoon, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The fire grew a few hundred acres overnight as firefighters and water-dropping helicopter crews continued the fight before dawn.
The Associated Press reported that the fire was started by a motorcycle crash in the wildland area in Riverside County. The Press-Enterprise reported that a rider crashed a dirt bike into a tree.
The throttle stuck and the engine's revving ignited leaking gasoline, according to the AP. The rider had minor injuries.
Mandatory evacuations were issued for various streets in the La Cresta community:
- Grand Avenue, north of Avenida La Cresta
- Avenida Castilla
- Via Caballos
- Calle de Suenos
- Sierra Maria Road
- Vista Flora Road
- Teich Lane
- Valle Vista
- Via Sevilla
- Paseio de Flores
- Paseo Chaparro
The public was advised to avoid Grand Avenue due to traffic and emergency vehicles.
Despite the mandatory evacuations, all schools in Lake Elsinore will remain open, according to the Lake Elsinore Unified School District.
An agency spokeswoman said air tankers and water-dropping helicopters were deployed to attack the flames, which could not be easily reached by ground personnel, who were trekking to the fire via trails and forest roads.
A care and reception center was set up in the Lake Elsinore High School gym at 21800 Canyon Drive in Wildomar for those affected by the fire. The San Jacinto Animal Campus at 581 S. Grand Ave. in San Jacinto is taking all animals, authorities said.
As of Oct. 17, CAL FIRE reported more than 12 large wildfires -- 300 acres or more -- burning across California. The worst wildfires have been in Northern California, where the death toll from several fires that tore through communities stands at 41. More than 5,700 structures have been destroyed.
Through Oct. 22, more than 6,267 fires burned 497,281 acres this year. During that same period last year, 4,529 fires burned 244,198 acres. The five-year statewide average for that period is 4,445 acres and 201,519 acres.
The state is coming off one of its wettest winters in years, which left hillsides covered in grass and other vegetation. That grass dried out during summer and turned into tinder, providing fuel for rapidly spreading fires often pushed by strong winds.