Valley News -

After several days’ battle, firefighters achieve containment on 300-acre Liberty fire


Last updated 12/14/2017 at Noon

The Liberty fire burns down the hillside near Murrieta Thursday, Dec. 7. Kim Harris photo

A 300-acre fire in the Murrieta area was fully contained three days after it started, but the blaze managed to destroy at least one home, to prompt evacuations and to cancel school for a day.

The blaze, dubbed the Liberty fire, was reported about 1:14 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, in the area of Los Alamos and Liberty roads and tore through heavy brush with the help of strong Santa Ana winds.

By late afternoon, the fire had grown to its full size, and an evacuation order was in place for residents on several nearby streets.

Murrieta Mesa High School served as a care and reception area for evacuees.

Three school districts in the area decided to cancel class Friday, citing smoke from both the Liberty fire and the 4,100-acre Lilac fire in north San Diego County as the reason.

The Menifee Union School District, Murrieta Valley Unified School District and Temecula Valley Unified School District all announced the cancellation of classes.

The districts pointed to a smoke advisory from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which said northeast winds could bring smoke into the region and make air quality unhealthy.

Districts also raised concerns about the effort needed to get to school.

“With the number of mandatory and voluntary evacuations in place and road closures in the area of the fire we anticipate students, staff and teachers would have difficulty getting to schools tomorrow,” a social media post from the Murrieta Valley Unified School District said.

Despite a promise of strong Santa Ana winds Friday, things seemed relatively peaceful, and firefighters were able to increase their line around the fire to about 60 percent by Friday morning.

By 10:45 a.m., all evacuations in the area were lifted. Murrieta Mesa High School closed as a care and reception area by about 2 p.m. Friday.

Saturday began on a promising note with an announcement that the fire was nearly contained, and that full containment was expected around 8 p.m.

That expected announcement was made early when fire officials were able to announce they had reached full containment at 7:45 p.m.

In a Facebook post, Murrieta Fire & Rescue said that containment of a fire is not the same thing as a fire being completely “out.”

For a fire to be considered out, the firefighters need to remove any unburnt fuel, cool down all hot spots adjacent to control lines and not detect any hot spots within the containment lines for at least 48 hours, fire officials said.

Containing a fire simply means that a control line has been established around the outside of a fire, reasonably preventing the fire from further spreading.

Even as firefighters made significant progress on the blaze, there was still a looming threat of Santa Ana winds whipping the flames back up again.

“Predictive weather services is advising that Santa Ana winds will increase tonight and Sunday, and forecasts call for warm temperatures and low humidity next week, and fire will once again be monitoring the fire throughout the night,” according to a post from Murrieta Fire & Rescue.

Santa Ana winds played a contributing role in many of Southern California’s active wildfires last week, including the Lilac fire in north San Diego County.

Murrieta Mesa High School was named the overnight evacuation center during the Liberty Fire. JP Raineri photo

linkThat fire, which started west of Interstate 15 and south of State Route 76, was reported only hours before the Liberty fire, but it caused far more damage as it moved southwest.

It destroyed numerous homes within the Rancho Monserate Country Club, leaving behind a trail of twisted metal rebar, ashes and scorched paneling.

At least 46 horses died when flames from the Lilac fire swept through the San Luis Rey training center in Bonsall, where nearly 500 horses are stabled, according to officials.

The causes of both the Liberty and Lilac fires remained under investigation as of press time.


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