Falls Fire smolders near Lake Elsinore, evacuations lifted


By 7:30 p.m. Tuesday the fire had burned approximately nearly 1,500 acres in the Cleveland National Forest, about five miles west of Lake Elsinore. The blaze was 30 percent contained. Firefighters are trying to build a fire break to prevent the flames from spreading through the steep terrain.

Winds increased Tuesday afternoon, but there were no visible flames Tuesday, mostly heavy smoke. This was a very different scene from the previous night, when flames were shooting up from hot spots.

A mandatory evacuation order for homes in the Decker Canyon area was lifted Tuesday evening. Evacuation orders were lifted earlier for Rancho Capistrano and Lakeland Village.

The fire ignited at about 10 a.m. Monday at an out building in Morell Canyon. In addition to that out building, fire officials say a ranch at the bottom of a hill off Grand Avenue across form Lakeland Village also suffered damage.

"Famous Lake Elsinore winds, and those usually start up between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. So, that's the one thing that I think everyone is really concerned about," said Vickie Wright with the U.S. Forest Service.

The Thomases watched the firefight from their property in Decker Canyon.

"If it comes over the ridge behind the house, then it's time to think about getting out," said Tom Thomas.

It's a scene all too familiar to the couple. In 1989, they lost their house and all of their belongings in a forest fire. They aren't taking any chances this time around.

"I lost all of my high school annuals and things like that. My history basically went away that day in two hours," described Dee Thomas.

Approximately 265 firefighters were assigned to the blaze. Two were rushed to the hospital for fire-related injuries. They have since been treated and released. Six helicopters were on scene, and six air-tankers have been ordered.

Ortega (74) Highway remained closed to non-residents of the area Tuesday. California Highway Patrol officers began escorting residents of the area along the roadway. Five cars at a time were being escorted with required proof of residency.

Until the 74 is fully open and repaired, the CHP escorts were scheduled daily for 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.; 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m; and 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Other closures include Grand Avenue in Lake Elsinore and Antonio Parkway in Orange County.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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