An overnight drop in temperatures and wind speeds helped firefighters gain ground on a 1,000-acre wildfire that forced evacuations Sunday in Riverside County.
The Riverside County Fire Department responded to 300 Blaine Street in Riverside shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday. At the height of the fire, more than 300 firefighters, four helicopters, and eight air tankers worked to contain the blaze, dropping fire retardant that painted neighborhoods bright red.
The Blaine fire was "burning at a rapid rate of spread" near homes. It had scorched nearly 1,000 acres as of midnight and was at 44 percent containment.
On live TV, homeowner Felix Minjarez grabbed his garden house in an attempt to douse the flames in front of his home. His palm tree caught fire from embers carried in the wind.
"Just to imagine losing it [his house] was a scary thought," Minjarez said. "My wife was in tears and for a second we thought we were going to lose everything."
The fire sent a smoke cloud visible between Riverside and Moreno Valley. Fire retardant was dropped from fire-fighting helicopters, blanketing the neighborhood in a sea of red.
"There's a mess in the community, but we did that purposefully so we could stop the fire," Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins said.
The firefighting chemical is usually red in color, allowing firefighters to see where it has already been dropped.
[la gallery] Firefighters Blanket Riverside Neighborhood in Red Fire Retardant to Protect Homes From Wildfire
An evacuation order for all residents west of Hidden Springs Drive from Greenridge Drive to Country Gate Road was issued around 6:30 p.m. That order was lifted around 9:30 p.m. and people were allowed to return home although the clean-up process is just beginning.
The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.
[NATL-LA GALLERY UPDATED 12/20] 2017 California Wildfires in Photos
CAL FIRE reported more than 3,994 fires in California from Jan. 1 through Aug. 6 Those fires scorched more than 220,623 acres – nearly double last year’s acreage figure. During that same period last year, CAL FIRE reported 3,027 fires that burned 140,095 acres.
NBC4's Rick Montanez and the Associated Press contributed to this report.