NEAR CORONA (CBSLA) – Hot temperatures and windy conditions Tuesday made conditions difficult for crews battling a 3,400-acre wildfire which had forced evacuations in the Holy Jim Canyon area of the Cleveland National Forest and had sent plumes of ash onto the nearby city of Corona.
The Holy Fire sparked before 1:20 p.m. Monday near Holy Jim and Trabuco Canyon roads, on the west side of the Santa Ana Mountains, sending smoke billowing hundreds of feet into the air. The blaze quickly spread amid steep terrain, thick brush and scorching temperatures. The fire was only at 2 percent containment Tuesday morning, burning in parts of both Orange and Riverside counties.
At last one cabin has been destroyed.
The Cleveland National Forest tweeted the updated size of 3,399, saying the fire was 5 percent contained Tuesday night.
Trabuco and Holy Jim canyons were under mandatory evacuation orders, as well as the Blue Jay and El Cariso campgrounds, according to the Cleveland National Forest. All campgrounds in the Trabuco Ranger District were closed and forest road closures were in effect for Trabuco Creek, Maple Springs, North Main Divide, Bedford and Indian Truck Trail.
Voluntary evacuation orders were issued Tuesday for Highway 74 west from Lookout Restaurant to Nichols Institute in the areas of Rancho Capistrano, El Cariso Village and Blue Jay.
The American Red Cross has set up an evacuation center at the Rancho Santa Margarita Bell Tower Regional Community Center, located at 22232 El Paseo.
Holy Jim Canyon resident Tilson Schumate told CBS2 Monday that he and his wife barely made it out of their cabin before the area was overtaken by flames.
“We were in the cabin for only five minutes, but in that five minutes, the flames had already come up over the hill… so those cabins are gone for sure,” Schumate said.
Residents off Santiago Canyon Road in the Corona area told CBS2 they were fearful that the flames could race down the hillsides towards their homes. Ash had fallen in several Corona communities.
“Everyone in the area could see the huge plume,” Corona resident Jennifer Curtis said. “We just looked up and it looked like the ash was just a ball ready to just fall on us.”
Two firefighters reported heat-related injuries. They are expected to recover.
Some flights at John Wayne Airport were rerouted due to the fire.
By evening, the fire was slowly creeping towards the neighborhood of Horsethief Canyon in south Corona. People were anxiously waiting to find out if they were going to leave their homes.
“Got everything packed up and ready to go,” said resident Kelley Willis. “We’ve been here 17 years.”
“This is so frightening,” Gail Edgecomb said. “Literally, when you look out our front door, it looks like it’s coming straight for us.”
Because of the Mendocino Complex burning in Northern California, only 300 personnel from were available to battle the blaze as of Tuesday morning, according to the Orange County Fire Authority. However, more firefighters had been ordered. Several water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were also fighting the fire from the air.
OCFA Capt. Tony Bommarito noted that the area probably hasn’t burned since about 1980, meaning it has heavy brush that will firefighting conditions even more challenging.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District warned that during the overnight and early morning hours, downslope winds could bring smoke into the valleys west and southwest of the fire. Portions of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties were likely to be affected.
A fire hotline has been set up. Residents can call 714-628-7085 for updates.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)