A deadly wildfire that prompted evacuations south of Hemet grew to 4,500 acres Tuesday, reaching the boundaries of the San Bernardino National Forest, with no change in containment, leading officials to broaden evacuation orders for public safety.
The Fairview Fire was reported shortly after 2 p.m. Monday on Fairview Avenue and Bautista Road, and had burned 2,000 acres by 10 p.m., according to the Riverside County Fire Department.
The blaze expanded to 4,500 acres by 5 p.m. Tuesday, with containment holding at 5%, according to officials at the scene. There was a potential for expansion to 7,000 acres, depending on winds and other conditions, officials said.
Evacuations were ordered for an area south of Stetson Avenue, north of Cactus Valley Road, west of Bautista Canyon and east of State Street. Sheriff’s deputies were making house calls to enforce the evacuation order, according to county fire Capt. Richard Cordova.
An evacuation warning issued Monday for Bautista Canyon Road, south of Stetson and north of the Two Streams Fork trailhead, was converted to a mandatory evacuation Tuesday due to the proximity of flames to homes in the area. Additional evacuations were later ordered south of Cactus Valley Road and east to Thomas Mountain Ridge.
The blaze was moving southeast and extended into the San Bernardino National Forest Tuesday afternoon. Cal Fire and U.S. Forest Service personnel joined in unified command shortly before 3 p.m.
Along with county, state and federal firefighters, crews from multiple municipal agencies, including the Hemet Fire Department and Murrieta Fire & Rescue, were working the fire lines. Nearly 300 personnel had been deployed Tuesday.
At least four Cal Fire air tankers and two water-dropping helicopters were making runs on the brusher.
A temporary flight restriction was established directly over the fire, barring civilian aircraft from coming within five miles of it. The Federal Aviation Administration was expected to widen the TFR as the fire spilled into the national forest.
Winds were blowing about 15 mph, with gusts to 20 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The temperature peaked at 105 degrees in the Hemet Valley Tuesday.
The blaze was concentrated in the unincorporated communities south and east of Hemet.
Schools were closed Tuesday in the Hemet Unified School District.
Officials said the fire resulted in two civilian fatalities and one civilian burn injury. Details on the two deaths were sparse, with fire officials saying only that the people were attempting to flee in a car when they were caught in the flame front.
At least seven buildings were destroyed and several more were damaged.
Cordova estimated that some 1,500 homes had been affected by the evacuation orders.
An evacuation warning remained in effect for an area north of Cactus Valley Road and east of Stetson, where residents were urged to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice.
An evacuation center was set up at Tahquitz High School at 4425 Titan Trail, Hemet. Officials said evacuees could bring their small animals to the center, where personnel would assist with evacuated pets.
The Department of Animal Services said the San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus was accepting large and small domestic creatures, including livestock, for safekeeping. As of Monday night, 12 dogs, six cats and a pet rabbit were placed in the facility, located at 581 S. Grand Ave., San Jacinto.
All fees for retaining pets will be waived under a county emergency order, agency spokesman John Welsh said.
He said animal control officers have been patrolling the evacuation zone to search for stranded animals. No horses have been impounded, but “an officer provided water and food for a potbellied pig, and another officer provided water for a herd of goats,” Welsh said.
According to Caltrans, the following corridors were closed to southbound traffic in East Hemet: Stanford Street, Dartmouth Street, Cornell Street, Aurora Drive, Columbia Street, Yale Street, Girard Street, San Jacinto Street, Santa Fe Street, Meridian Street, Hemet Street, Lake Street and Fairview Avenue.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced early Tuesday that California has secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help ensure the availability of vital resources to suppress the Fairview Fire.
The grant will enable local, state and tribal agencies responding to the fire to apply for 75% reimbursement of their eligible fire suppression costs.
The cause of the fire was under investigation. In a document filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, Southern California Edison reported “circuit activity” in the area close to the time the fire erupted.