Firefighters Protect Hundreds of Homes From 2,000-Acre Wildfire

While no injuries were reported, mandatory evacuations were ordered for about 500 homes

Firefighters protected hundreds of homes overnight from a wildfire that began Monday afternoon near a Southern California freeway and quickly spread to about 2,000 acres due to strong winds.

A thick cloud of smoke billowed from the Corona hillside early Tuesday, when flare-ups were reported at the start of what's expected to be another warm, windy day.

The fire broke out next to the Riverside (91) Freeway, just west of Green River Road, on the border of Riverside and Orange counties and blackened about 2,000 acres within eight hours. The Canyon fire initially spread at a "moderate'' rate to Coal Canyon Road off the freeway, according to Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi.

Concialdi noted that the fire is burning in a box canyon, narrow canyons with steep walls and flat bottoms. 

"There was fire on every hillside," Concialdi said Tuesday morning. "It was a hard-fought battle, and only one home sustained damage. We still have fire on the ridge. It's still kicking up."

While no injuries were reported, the number of mandatory evacuations increased from 1,000 residents to 1,500 residents, totalling an estimated 500 homes, according to Concialdi. Evacuations were ordered on Dominguez Ranch Road, San Almada Road, San Ponte Road, San Viscaya Circle, San Sebastian Circle, San Ramon Drive, San Alvarado Road, Mt. Elena Circle, Mt. Tesoro, Mt. Palmas and Mt. Cantara Circle, according to the Corona Fire Department.

As of 2 a.m. Tuesday, approximately 45 evacuees checked-in at an evacuation shelter set up in the gymnasium of Corona High School.

About 300 firefighters from the Anaheim, Corona, and Los Angeles County fire departments, as well as the OCFA, U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire were battling the blaze.

Five helicopters with night-vision capabilities and three planes, including a DC-10, were involved in the firefight, Concialdi said.

The big air tanker and some helicopters were grounded as night fell, the captain said.

Shifting Santa Ana winds were a cause for concern.

Crews were setting backfires, hoping to keep the fire from crossing the freeway.

Several lanes on the eastbound freeway at Coal Canyon Road were initially closed to make room for firefighting equipment, backing up traffic backed up for miles, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Authorities closed Dominguez Ranch Road to incoming traffic and Green River Road is closed at the entrance to a mobile home park until further notice.

Only the far right lane was closed, but traffic had backed up to the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway, said CHP Officer Florentino Olivera.

For many commuting from the Inland Empire to Orange County, the Riverside Freeway is the only access point, Olivera said. "But we're asking the public, if possible, to avoid the eastbound 91." 

Traffic had also slowed to a crawl on the 241 toll road, according to Concialdi.

Santa Ana winds blowing 20 to 25 mph were fanning the flames, according to reports from the scene.

As a result of the wildfire, numerous schools announced closures for Tuesday. Adams Elementary School, Cesar Chavez Academy, Coronita Elementary School and Prado View Elementary School have announced they will be closed.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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