LAKE ELSINORE (CBSLA) – The fast-moving Holy Fire pushed closer Thursday towards homes in Lake Elsinore and forced mandatory evacuations before fire crews appeared to successfully divert the flames in the area.
The Holy Fire topped 10,000 acres by Thursday evening, fire officials told residents at a community meeting in Lake Elsinore. It remains only five percent contained. At least 12 cabins have been destroyed. More than 20,000 have been evacuated.
The fire sparked in Orange County’s Holy Jim Canyon and has continued its steady march east into Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. Contributing to its rapid spread is that it is burning in an area of thick brush that has not seen a fire since about 1980.
By Thursday afternoon, mandatory evacuations had been issued in Lake Elsinore for the mountainside of Lake Street, and Southeast of Grand Avenue to Highway 74.
Approximately 7,053 homes and 20,495 people are under mandatory evacuation orders.
Two firefighters were injured battling the blaze Thursday. The first firefighter reportedly fell and fractured a knee. The second allegedly twisted an ankle.
The neighborhoods already under mandatory evacuation include McVicker Canyon, Rice Canyon, Horsethief Canyon, El Cariso, Rancho Capistrano, Blue Jay, Indian Canyon, Glen Eden, Sycamore Creek, Mayhew Canyon, Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Canyon.
Also under a mandatory evacuation is the 74 Highway corridor, from Grand Avenue in Lake Elsinore west to the Nichols Institute entrance in San Juan Capistrano, covering about 28 miles. Eastbound Highway 74 is closed. Residents can only travel west on the highway at this time.
All campgrounds in the Trabuco Ranger District are closed and forest road closures were in effect for Trabuco Creek, Maple Springs, North Main Divide, Bedford and Indian Truck Trail.
New voluntary evacuation orders were issued Thursday afternoon for the Machado community.
Voluntary evacuations have also been ordered in the Shoreline community of Lake Elsinore, south of Grand Avenue between Ortega Highway and Garner Road, stretching to South Main Divide Road.
All schools in the Menifee Unified and Perris Union High School districts will be closed Thursday due to poor air quality caused by the fire.
Crews are concerned that as temperatures heat up throughout the day, the flames will start racing towards homes in the Lake Elsinore area. Firefighters have placed a line of pink fire retardant around homes in preparation for this possibility.
Some residents have chosen not to leave. In McVicker Canyon, some residents packed up their cars, moved them out of the area, and then hiked back to their homes.
“I think we’re well prepared,” McVicker Canyon resident Michael Carroll told CBS2. “We have our water trucks, our two water buffalos, and we’re ready to go. What else are you going to do?”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday night, a 51-year-old Holy Jim Canyon man was arrested in connection with the blaze.
Forrest Gordon Clark will be charged with one count each of aggravated arson of five or more inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest and criminal threats. He will also face two felony counts each of resisting and deterring an executive officer, and a sentencing enhancement for arson burning multiple structures. He was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Orange County Superior Court. However, officials told CBS2 he was refusing to leave his jail cell, and his arraignment was then postponed to Friday.
If convicted on all charges, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
O.C. Fire Authority investigators believe the fire started near Clark’s cabin. Of the more than a dozen cabins in Clark’s area, his is the only one that was not destroyed, the Orange County Register reports.
Volunteer Fire Chief Mike Milligan, who also has a cabin in the area, told the Register Clark has long feuded with a neighbor and other cabin owners. He ran through the area last week screaming, and sent Milligan an email warning that “this place will burn,” Milligan said.
“This is a monster, who would go out with low humidity, and high wind, and the highest heat temperatures this time of year, and intentionally set the forest on fire,” O.C. Supervisor Todd Spitzer said at a Wednesday afternoon news briefing.
Because resources have been stretched thin battling the 14 other large wildfires burning throughout California, officials have been unable to get the full number of personnel needed on the Holy Fire. As of Thursday morning, only 678 personnel were assigned to the blaze. This, however, was up from 444 personnel on Wednesday morning. Firefighters with OCFA, U.S. Forest Service and the Cal Fire Riverside Fire Department are among the agencies battling the blaze.
There were 10 water-dropping helicopters and seven fixed-wing aircraft being used in the aerial attack.
The Holy Fire broke out before 1:20 p.m. Monday near Holy Jim and Trabuco Canyon roads, on the west side of the Santa Ana Mountains. The blaze quickly spread amid steep terrain, thick brush and scorching temperatures.
So-called Elsinore winds typically kick up in the afternoon in the area of Lake Elsinore, which is just southeast of the fire.
Firefighters had been particularly worried about the northeast flank, where the flames were a few miles away from homes, said Kathy Kramer, a spokeswoman for the unified fire management team led by the Cleveland National Forest and Cal Fire Riverside.
A care and reception center was established at Temescal Canyon High School on El Toro Road in Lake Elsinore. An evacuation center is also open at San Juan Hills High School at 29211 Stallion Ridge in San Juan Capistrano.
Small animals can be taken to Animal Friends of the Valley at 33751 Mission Trail in Wildomar. Livestock was being accepted at Elsinore High School in the 21800 block of Canyon Drive.
On Thursday, Governor Brown declared a “State of Emergency” in Orange and Riverside Counties due to the Holy Fire.
Thursday evening, residents of Lake Elsinore and Corona packed a community meeting to get the latest information about to fire.
KCAL9’s Tina Patel reported many of those who evacuated were asking for a timeline of when they might be able to go back home.
“I’m from Horsethief Canyon and we’ve been evacuated for a couple days. And they’re doing a great job. I hope to be back in on Sunday,” said Shari Teague.
Patel also found residents who voluntarily evacuated.
“It’s not just the fire,” says Lupita Garcia who happens to be a cancer patient. “It’s also what comes with the fire, the smoke, the ash, the poor air quality. There’s a lot of elderly, kids, people like me with asthma who are sick.”
Teague sums up how a lot of residents feel.
“We’ve had some small, little fires,” she says, “but nothing like this. This is devastating. Heartbreaking.”
Residents can call (714) 573-6200 or (714) 573-6202 for more information on the Holy Fire.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)