Valley News -

By Stephanie Lai
Intern 

Officials now say Holy Fire only at 93 percent containment

Fire within the burn area at 150 acres

 

Last updated 8/28/2018 at 12:33pm

Shane Gibson

A MD-87 Air Tanker draws a line of protective fire retardant as bystanders watch during the Holy Fire, Aug. 8.

UPDATE: Aug. 28, 11:30 a.m.

Firefighters worked today to contain a fire that jumped containment lines of the Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Park, burned about 150 acres and threatened communication towers on Santiago Peak in southern Orange County. The fire was reported at 10 percent containment as of Tuesday morning.

The flames erupted about 9:20 a.m. Monday. No residential structures were being threatened by the flames. Efforts to knock down the flare-up were largely being done from the air, due to the remote, hard-to-reach terrain in which it was burning.

The Holy Fire, which broke out in the Holy Jim Canyon area on Aug. 6, was officially listed at 93 percent containment as of Tuesday, with full containment estimated to occur Sunday, according to Cleveland National Forest officials.

A report of 100 percent containment on the fire was published Sunday, based on information provided in a CalFire incident update. But U.S. Forest Service officials now say the Holy Fire was never fully contained.

The fire has been listed for several days at 22,986 acres. An incident-management website on Tuesday listed the overall acreage as 23,986, however, newly released sitemaps released by the Cleveland National Forest showed the blaze covering about 21,800 acres, including Monday's fire.

UPDATE: Aug. 26, 10 p.m.

The nearly 23,000-acre Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Forest that burned for almost 20 days was fully contained

today, according to U.S. Forest Service rangers.

Firefighters spent the last few days extinguishing stubborn hot spots smoldering in the more rugged terrain along the rim of the burn zone.

The OCFA asked anyone who may have been in the Holy Jim Canyon area on Aug. 6 around the time the fire began to contact investigators at (714) 573-6700 or (714) 573-6709.

UPDATE: Aug. 25, 1 p.m.

The 23,000-acre Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Forest is now 95 percent contained, with full containment predicted Sunday.

According to U.S. Forest Service rangers, small spot fires continue to smolder in rugged terrain along the rim of the burn zone, where crews have been working to establish lines since the alleged arson blaze erupted on the afternoon of Aug. 6 in the Holy Jim Canyon area, on the Orange County side of the national preserve.

The fire has blackened an estimated 22,986 acres in Orange and Riverside counties, as well as damaged or destroyed 24 structures, officials said.

Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, is charged with aggravated arson resulting in damage to at least five inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest and criminal threats in connection with the blaze.

Clark has a cabin in Holy Jim Canyon, and arson investigators allegedly uncovered evidence indicating the fire was ignited in the immediate vicinity of his property, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

A volunteer fireman, Mike Milligan, who has a cabin near Clark's, told reporters the defendant has had a long-running feud with a neighbor and other cabin owners. In the days prior to the fire, Clark ran through the area screaming and sent Milligan a message warning that "this place will burn,'' he said.

Clark is being held in lieu of $1 million bail and is undergoing a court-ordered evaluation for mental illness.

The OCFA asked anyone who may have been in the Holy Jim Canyon area on Aug. 6 around the time the fire began to contact investigators at (714) 573-6700 or (714) 573-6709.

UPDATED: Aug. 22, 5 p.m.

The Holy Fire burning in the Cleveland National Forest was predicted to have been 100 percent contained on Tuesday, but the full-containment target has been pushed back to Sunday, mostly because the burn area includes spots that firefighters are finding hard to reach as they carry out the "tedious'' work needed to bring their 16-day struggle to a close.

Firefighters had hoped to fully contain the blaze by Tuesday, but "we bumped that back to (Sunday), mainly just because the terrain is so inaccessible,'' said Jake Rodriguez, a U.S. Forest Service public information officer.

The fire is 92 percent contained, having blackened 22,887 acres in Orange and Riverside counties and damaged or destroyed 24 structures since it erupted early on the afternoon of Aug. 6 near Holy Jim and Trabuco Creek roads, Rodriguez said.

The 324 firefighters assigned to fire Monday mainly focused on "fire suppression rehab,'' which involves filling in pits made by bulldozers to slow down flames, Rodriguez said.

"There's not a whole lot of action going on in terms of fire activity,'' Rodriguez said.

The bulldozed firebreaks sometimes lead to trails or makeshift roads that need to be camouflaged or removed to keep hikers from areas that shouldn't be accessible to the public, Rodriguez said. Also, there are miles of fire hose to haul back in, and there are "some pockets'' of vegetation that can produce some smoke, but little threat, he said.

"It's never over till it's over,'' Rodriguez said. "It's going to be a marathon to close it all up, but the heat of the battle is over now. It's the more tedious work now to get it all buttoned up and secure.''

A Burned Area Emergency Response Team began work Monday to identify threats to the burn area from rains and what can be done reduce them. The team includes hydrologists, botanists, biologists and road engineers, Rodriguez said.

Also Tuesday, the OCFA asked anyone who may have been in the Holy Jim Canyon area on Aug. 6, around the time the fire began, to contact Investigator Lackey at (714) 573-6700 or (714) 573-6709.

UPDATED: Aug. 16, 7:30 a.m.

All evacuations have been lifted for the Holy Fire which is now at 78 percent containment, representatives from Cleveland National Forest reported this morning.

ORIGINAL STORY:

A rapidly spreading brush fire, caused by an alleged arsonist, spread into Riverside County and has destroyed 18 single residence homes, forcing thousands to evacuate.

Six of those homes are located in Riverside County and the other 12 in Orange County, Holy Fire Public Information officer Thanh Nguyen said.

The Holy Fire, which began Aug. 6, as a small brush fire that quickly exploded into a massive inferno, has scorched 22,986 acres and was 72 percent contained as of Wednesday morning, spreading through the Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Canyon areas in the Cleveland National Forest. The fire blazed into the rural areas of Riverside County and finally Lake Elsinore and Temescal Canyon, where thousands were forced to evacuate their homes due to the threat.

A united force of Cleveland National Forest, U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire, Orange County Fire and Riverside Fire sent over a thousand units out at several points to hold the fire back with direct lines to remove fuels from the ground, patrollers to monitor evacuated areas, water-dropping helicopters and DC-10 air tankers to drop retardant lines.

As the fire raged through the Lake Elsinore area, firefighters struggled to contain it, citing steep terrain, scorching temperatures, and low humidity.

Firefighters expect full containment of the blaze by Aug. 21.

Evacuations

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for McVicker Canyon, Rice Canyon, Horsethief, Glen Eden, El Cariso Village, Blue Jay, Sycamore, Sycamore Creek, Riverside community in Lake Elsinore, Machado, Shoreline, Glen Eden, Rancho Capistrano communities and homes along the mountainside of Lake Street and southeast of Grand Avenue to Ortega Highway.

Most evacuations had been lifted, as of Tuesday, Aug. 14, though mandatory evacuations remained in place Tuesday for Holy Jim, Trabuco Canyon recreation residence tracts, Mystic Oaks and Blue Jay and Falcon Campgrounds. As of press time, volunteer evacuations remained in effect for the Trilogy community.

See Shane Gibson photos here

The American Red Cross set up evacuation centers at Temescal Valley High School and San Juan Hills High School. During the height of evacuations, hundreds of people flocked to the centers.

Animal Friends of the Valley, San Jacinto Animal Shelter, and Western Riverside Animal Control took in pets of those who were forced to leave their homes due to the fire. Animal Friends of the Valley reported more than 130 animals were taken in due to the blaze. Temescal Valley High School held 233 dogs, 81 cats and 110 other animals including horses and goats, according to Riverside County PIO Shane Reichardt.

Most mandatory evacuations lasted between two to three days, impacting 21,000 total people at the peak of the fire. As of Aug. 14, "only 3,000 individuals remain impacted by mandatory evacuations," Nguyen said.

Power outages

Power outages also impacted homeowners in Lake Elsinore and Temescal Canyon, particularly impacting Sycamore Creek. South Coast Edison's online power outage site recorded 133 affected customers along the Ortega Highway by the South Main Divide as a result of the Holy Fire.

Returning families were strongly advised to drive cautiously, throw away perishable and refrigerated foods and properly dispose of ash by the Riverside County Department of Public Health.

State of Emergency

At the request of 67th District Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore), Governor Jerry Brown enacted a State of Emergency for Riverside and Orange counties to help relief efforts Aug. 9. The move should ease the process of filing insurance claims, prevent price gouging for lodging or survival basics and help those affected by the blaze to receive federal grants for relief.

Riverside County also declared a local emergency on the same day, according to a county-issued press release, the proclamation will go to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors for ratification. The declaration could help to make the county eligible for potential federal and state assistance.

Road Closures

Roads were closed due to safety concerns throughout the week, impacting the Ortega Highway, DePalma at Horsethief Canyon, Indian Truck Trail and Campbell Road at Temescal Canyon, Mountain Street at Lake Street, Orange Grove Way at Lake Street, Broadway at Grand Avenue, Lincoln Street at Grand Avenue and McVicker Canyon Road at Grand Avenue. The Ortega Highway reopened Tuesday morning.

School Closures

School start dates were delayed due to the fire including Lake Elsinore Unified School District, Perris Union High School School District, Romoland School District, Corona-Norco Unified School District and Menifee School District. Several postponed their Wednesday, Aug. 8, starting date a week. Twenty-three CNUSD schools from south of the 91 freeway to east of Border Avenue have postponed start dates of Aug. 20, Superintendent Michael Lin stated. All of Lake Elsinore's schools are also starting Aug. 20, to allow for deep cleaning that began Aug. 11, LEUSD reported in a public correspondence.

Alleged arsonist arrested

Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was booked into Orange County Jail Aug. 8, on suspicion of two counts of felony arson, one count of felony threat to terrorize, and one count of misdemeanor resisting arrest, according to the Cleveland National Forest.

Clark refused to leave his jail cell for his arraignment, originally scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 9, so the hearing was postponed until Aug. 10. Upon his initial appearance Friday, Clark's erratic behavior caused the judge to delay the hearing until Aug. 17.

Clark is being held in lieu of $1 million bail and has been charged with aggravated arson damaging at least five inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest and criminal threats, all felonies, as well as two misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest, according to Orange County Assistant District Attorney Chris Duff. Clark could face 10 years to life in prison if convicted. He also faces sentencing enhancements for arson of multiple structures.

Unhealthy Air Quality

South Coast Air Quality Management District reported unhealthy air quality daily for Perris and Temecula Valley since the fire was first reported because of downsloping winds, bringing smoke into the valley. The fire has impacted air quality in portions of Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County and San Bernardino County, according to SCAQMD.

Shane Gibson

Vincent Rivera (left) and his brother Daniel Rivera try to protect their home by wetting their entire house with a garden hose as flames from the Holy Fire spread into dry brush areas entwined with the housing tract near McVicker Canyon Park in Lake Elsinore, Aug. 9.

Firefighters injured

According to Holy Fire public information officials, the fire has caused five firefighter injuries. City News Service reported two heat exhaustion-related injuries, the firefighters were soon after hospitalized Aug. 6.

Rumored Lootings

While evacuees feared the threat of burglaries and lootings during their mandatory evacuation, Lt. John Magnan with the Riverside County Sheriff's department reported only one break in recorded with a suspect detained. He also assured residents that the police department was constantly monitoring evacuation zones with over 30 officials patrolling throughout the night.

View our gallery of reader submitted photos here.

Kim Harris and Jeff Pack contributed to this story.

Stephanie Lai can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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