BANNING (CBSLA) — A diesel-fueled vehicle emitting burning carbon from its exhaust system sparked the Apple Fire burning north of Beaumont in Riverside County, officials reported Monday.
The Apple Fire — which has forced thousands of people to flee their homes — grew to 26,850 acres and was 7% contained as of Monday night.
Firefighters have been able to push the blaze, which sparked Friday evening in the unincorporated community of Cherry Valley, deeper into the wilds of the San Bernardino National Forest and away from homes.
The northern and eastern edge of the fire is in steep, rugged terrain. Hot, dry and gusty conditions coupled with low humidity will continue to pose a challenge to firefighters.
The fire is also burning in an area with no recent fire history, the U.S. Forest Service reports.
“The area that is burning right now hasn’t burned in over 200 years,” Banning resident Michael Karr told CBSLA Sunday night. “And it’s filled with a lot of dry brush. This is the worst I’ve ever seen it up here.”
Nearly 2,300 firefighters are battling the fire on the ground and in the air using two air tankers and nine water dropping helicopters. USFS, CalFire/Riverside County Fire Department, San Bernardino County Fire Department are leading the firefight.
The fire, believed to have originated as three separate fires, broke out Friday afternoon along Apple Tree Lane and Oak Glen Road on the north end of the unincorporated community that borders Beaumont.
Officials reported Tuesday that investigators determined that the fires were caused by a diesel-fueled vehicle emitting burning carbon from the exhaust system as it was driving down Oak Glen Road, sparking a number of small fires Friday at about 4:55 p.m.
At least one home and several outbuildings have burned, and no injuries have been reported.
About 8,000 residents are under mandatory evacuation orders. The Red Cross set up a shelter for evacuees at Beaumont High School. However, on Sunday on a few dozen families had checked in. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, they were immediately given hotel vouchers to stay elsewhere.
In San Bernardino County, the Oak Glen community remains under evacuation. Forest Falls, Pioneertown, and Rim Rock are under an evacuation warning, meaning residents there should be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice. The San Gorgonio Wilderness has been closed to all use.
CalFire says they have a good handle on the fire now but more hot temperatures, low humidity and an upcoming wind event are raising concerns about spot fires in the days ahead.