Holy Fire explodes to 19,107 acres in Lake Elsinore area; 10 percent contained

Saturday, August 11, 2018
Holy Fire explodes to 19,107 acres in Lake Elsinore area
The Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Forest exploded to more than 19,100 acres and reached 10 percent containment as it continued to move near homes in the Lake Elsinore area.

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. (KABC) -- The Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Forest exploded to more than 19,100 acres and reached 10 percent containment as it continued to move near homes in the Lake Elsinore area.

Flames filled the sky with smoke as approximately 1,200 firefighters worked for a fifth day to keep the raging forest fire from reaching foothill neighborhoods, where more than 20,000 people have been evacuated.

Cleveland National Forest officials confirmed shortly before 7 p.m. Friday that the acreage increased from more than 18,100 acres to 19,107 acres. It also reached 10 percent containment.

Late Thursday night, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Orange and Riverside counties as blustery winds drove the flames to new ferocity. By nighttime, the fire jumped nearly 1,000 acres.

Amid smoldering conditions on Friday, several hot spots were spotted at Santiago Peak, at the northern end of the fire, where there is very steep and inaccessible terrain.

Fire officials said they expect the Holy Fire to flare back up as the temperatures rise in the afternoon. At least 10 helicopters and seven fixed-wing aircraft were assisting fire crews as the blaze moves east and north, where firefighters worked to build containment.

The Holy Fire burned through Rice Canyon and toward Horsethief Canyon, Cow Canyon and McVicker Drainage, north of Lake Elsinore. In the McVicker Canyon area, firefighters worked quickly and hard to save dozens of homes as flames raced up the brush right against the backyard fences. Firefighters and residents who remained in their homes at the last minute either fled or continued to hose down their houses.

Many residents said it's been rough watching the flames get so close to their home and even hearing the fire roaring through the vegetation.

Lake Elsinore homeowner Shannon Akins said the past 24 hours are a blur, as she stayed behind to watch the raging Holy Fire surround her house despite mandatory evacuations.

Lake Elsinore homeowner Shannon Akins stayed behind to watch as the raging Holy Fire surrounded her house.

"When it was coming, it was so hot. You could just hear the crackle, and you could hear the wind that the fire creates. It's an unreal sound," she said.

Rice Canyon Elementary School just below her home was also threatened, but like the homes, it survived Thursday's afternoon inferno.

"My home is here. I don't know how they did it. To save eight little houses on the street, it just doesn't get better than that," Akins added.

Rudy, a Riverside firefighter who had just come off the frontlines, said he watched as the flames moved into his own backyard in the Temescal Valley.

"We do our due diligence to protect those homes, but being here there's nothing I can really do. I don't have my apparatus or my crew. But I do trust the local agencies, Cal Fire, OCFA doing their jobs, so I feel safe," he said.

He added that some manmade preventions such as a quarry and construction helps to keep the fire from quickly moving in.

Outbuildings, trailers and vehicles reportedly were damaged by flames in the Cow Canyon Area, which is west of Echo Canyon Court in Lake Elsinore.

Some homes appeared to sustain damage as well at the end of Towee Lane, near a Korean Church retreat.

New video from early Friday morning showed at least one home burned on North Main Divide Road, off of Ortega Highway, which is much deeper into the Cleveland National Forest. Structures were also burned along Woodbridge Street near Crest Drive and near the area of North Crest Edgewood in Lake Elsinore.

Twelve structures were destroyed on the Orange County side. It was unclear how many structures were damaged in Riverside County.

Flames were spotted near the Glen Eden area, an unincorporated part of Corona. Firefighters were telling residents to understand the real danger, especially during the afternoon when the dangerous winds are expected to pick up again.

"Hopefully you can see now why you had to leave," shared Cal Fire Batt. Chief Andy Turner. "It's terrible and I hope we can get you back in as soon as possible, but this is why: We have fire all around the houses here."

No major injuries have been reported in the blaze.

The official cause of the fire remains unknown but on Wednesday, authorities arrested 51-year-old Forrest Gordon Clark on suspicion of felony arson among other charges in connection to the blaze. He was charged Thursday morning and appeared in court Friday after refusing to come out of his cell for a previous court appearance.

The flames caused a smoke advisory to be issued for Orange and parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Those who have not been forced to evacuate are being urged to limit outdoor activity.

Mandatory evacuations:

- McVicker Canyon, Rice Canyon, Horsethief Canyon, El Cariso, Rancho Capistrano, Blue Jay, Indian Canyon, Glen Eden, Sycamore Creek and Mayhew Canyon.

- All homes on the mountainside of Lake Street and southwest of Grand Avenue to Ortega Highway.

Voluntary evacuation warnings:

- Highway 74 (Ortega Highway) west from Lookout Restaurant to Nichols Institute and all connecting roads in the communities of Rancho Capistrano, El Cariso Village and Blue Jay. Residents are advised to exit west to Orange County to avoid fire equipment coming up on the Elsinore side.

-Highway 74 eastbound is also closed.

Evacuation centers:

-A care and reception center is available at Temescal Canyon High School, 28755 El Toro Rd Lake Elsinore CA 92532 for residents. There is also an evacuation center at the San Juan Hills High School, located at 29211 Stallion Ridge, San Juan Capistrano.

-Animal Friends of the Valleys is at capacity and Riverside County Animal Services' employees are still accepting animals at Temescal Canyon High and directly at the San Jacinto shelter (581 S. Grand Ave.). For more information, call 951-358-7387.

School closures:

-Schools in the Lake Elsinore Unified School District School were expected to be back open on Aug. 20.

-All Menifee Union District and Perris High School Union schools announced they would shut down again Friday, citing the poor air quality.

The fire has been burning since Monday, when it was first reported around 1:30 p.m. near Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Creek roads - across the main divide between Orange and Riverside counties.