WILDOMAR (CBSLA) – A wildfire that scorched 700 acres of brush in the Cleveland National Forest near Lake Elsinore and Wildomar in Riverside County forced the evacuation of 200 homes overnight Thursday.
However, fire authorities had lifted evacuation orders for the communities of Wildomar and La Cresta in Riverside County by Friday evening and were letting residents return to their homes. Firefighters had the blaze, which had torn through 850 acres, 60 percent contained as of Saturday morning.
“It’s just a fantastic job,” Wildomar resident Niehouse told CBS2 News. “Those guys are on the line, it’s hot, it’s tough work.”
The calmer winds and cooler weather Friday gave the firefighters an upper hand.
The fire had been creeping towards equestrian land and million dollar homes Thursday night.
“It was really pretty. I mean it was really lit up,” evacuee Bob Lee told CBS2.
For the Lees, it was a priority to get their two horses out of the area. They recall the fire in the area a decade ago, so when they were ordered to evacuate, they listened.
“We’ve had so much wind the last three days, that if this would’ve been two or three days ago, this thing would’ve been an inferno,” Bob said. “We would’ve left because you can’t stop it here. There’s too much fuel.”
The fire was originally thought to have been ignited by a dirt bike that crashed nearby, but fire officials have not officially determined a cause.
The Wildomar Fire, which started a little after noon Thursday in the San Mateo Canyon area south of State Route 74, was allegedly ignited when a Ladera Ranch man crashed his dirt bike into a tree near the area, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. The vehicle’s throttle got stuck and set ablaze gasoline that had leaked out of the fuel tank. The man then ran two miles to get help.
A neighbor says her husband saw the fire burning while he was riding his dirt bike in the area.
“My husband actually saw it about an hour or so after it started, because he came on his dirt bike and he saw the fire, and he looked down on it, and it looked really small,” Ilka Sidgmund told CBS2. “I don’t even know how it got so big. A small plume, and then, all of a sudden, it’s like, boom, huge.”
As of 8:30 a.m. Friday, the fire was 15 percent contained. About 330 fire personnel from multiple agencies, including CAL Fire, were battling the blaze with nine air tankers. They were working to protect the large ranch-style homes and properties from flames that were burning on the hillsides above. No homes have been damaged as of Friday morning.
Just after midnight, evacuation orders were issued for some areas of the La Cresta community, including the neighborhoods west of Grand Avenue, north of Avenida La Crest and south of Calle De Lobo. An evacuation order was also in place for five homes on Hixson Truck Trail. Several roads were also shut down in La Cresta.
While evacuation warnings were lifted for several areas at around 2 p.m. Friday, the mandatory evacuation orders remained in place.
An evacuation center had been set up at the Lake Elsinore High School gym. All evacuated animals could be taken to the San Jacinto Animal Campus at 581 S. Grand Ave. in San Jacinto.
All Murrieta Valley Unified School District schools will be open Friday, but service may be impacted in La Cresta and Bear Creek.
CBS2 News spoke to several nearby residents who were cautiously watching the fire from their homes.
“I’m gonna wait until the flames get a little bit higher,” nearby resident Dell Queen said.
“If it comes over the hill, maybe a little bit more (worried), but right now, no,” Brandon Stott said.