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  • Cleveland National Forest fire

By Friday morning, the Holy fire had grown to 18,137 acres and was 5% contained.

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  • Yosemite fire
  • Cleveland National Forest fire
  • Mendocino Complex fire
  • Redding fire
  • Holy fire
Firefighters battling the Mendocino Complex blaze monitor a burn operation on top of a ridge near the town of Ladoga, Calif., on Aug. 7.
Firefighters battling the Mendocino Complex blaze monitor a burn operation on top of a ridge near the town of Ladoga, Calif., on Aug. 7. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Ben Newburn faced a group of weary firefighters gathered a few mornings ago with one message: safety before anything else.

The veteran fire management officer for the U.S. Forest Service recounted the numerous firefighters who had lost their lives battling massive blazes in the region. There was Andrew Palmer, who died 10 years ago while clearing trees. And the nine firefighters killed in 2008 when their helicopter crashed in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, an incident seared in history as the “Iron 44 tragedy.”

“This country … chews up firefighters. It has had a notorious past of being very hard on us,” Newburn said. “So as you guys are going out there, working on whatever assignment you guys have, please keep in mind what you’re doing and the risks associated with that.”

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  • Cleveland National Forest fire
  • Holy fire
Firefighters watch for flare-ups as they prevent flames from the Holy fire from crossing the Ortega Highway in Lake Elsinore.
Firefighters watch for flare-ups as they prevent flames from the Holy fire from crossing the Ortega Highway in Lake Elsinore. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

As flames flickered behind Ana Tran’s McVicker Canyon home, she and her friend rushed to their car and sped past firefighters who were heading toward the blaze. Thick black smoke billowed above homes and cars were blanketed in pinkish fire retardant.

The residents, like many others, made a frantic escape Thursday after winds picked up in Lake Elsinore and pushed the raging Holy fire within feet of homes. The blaze had ravaged more than 18,000 acres in the Cleveland National Forest and had spread into Riverside County as of Friday morning.

Firefighters try to keep the Holy fire from jumping Lincoln Street toward Lake Elsinore homes.
Firefighters try to keep the Holy fire from jumping Lincoln Street toward Lake Elsinore homes. (Gina Ferazzi / Los AngelesTimes)

At the southern edge of the Holy fire in Lake Elsinore, where most of the activity was occurring Thursday night, the blaze moved toward hundreds of homes snuggled in and around the canyons that sit along Grand Avenue.

In the Robin Hood Oaks neighborhood, at the corner of Little John and Nottingham ways, Tera Swick, 43, watched from the frontyard of her mother’s home as large flames shot up. She and her family cheered on the aircraft that made drops of fire retardant.

“They’re just amazing,” she said. “We’re cheering them on every time they’re making drops.”

  • Cleveland National Forest fire
  • Holy fire
A DC-10 makes a fire retardant drop over the Holy fire Wednesday.
A DC-10 makes a fire retardant drop over the Holy fire Wednesday. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Holy fire in the Cleveland National Forest marched toward Lake Elsinore on Thursday afternoon, forcing a new round of evacuations.

Residents living in homes on the mountainside of Lake Street and in the southeast region from Grand Avenue to Ortega Highway were told by the U.S. Forest Service to leave their homes immediately as the 9,600-acre fire moved their way.

To the south, the Rangeland fire broke out west of Ramona and quickly charred between 100 and 150 acres while threatening structures along a rural road.

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  • Cleveland National Forest fire
  • Holy fire

The Holy fire grew to 9,600 acres by Thursday morning, threatening homes near Lake Elsinore. 

Scott Gregory looks for valuables at his home destroyed by the Carr fire in the Landpark Subdivision in Redding.
Scott Gregory looks for valuables at his home destroyed by the Carr fire in the Landpark Subdivision in Redding. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A Cal Fire mechanic assigned to the Carr fire died in a vehicle crash in Tehama County early Thursday morning, the eighth death connected to the furious blaze that has scorched roughly 177,000 acres in Northern California, officials said.

The victim, described as a heavy equipment mechanic, died in a crash on Highway 99, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement.

The crash happened at 12:17 a.m. after a Dodge Ram 5500 veered off the highway’s right shoulder, slammed into a tree and caught fire, according to Officer Ken Reineman of the California Highway Patrol’s Red Bluff station. The victim’s identity has not been released.

One key to getting through any emergency situation is preparation.

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For Trey Rosenbalm and Ariana Altier, fighting the largest fire in California history takes more than just watching out for flames.

As the Holy fire raged nearby and forced residents to flee their homes, the man accused of setting the 6,200-acre blaze sat in front of a news camera and said he had no idea how it started.