Cooking fire sparked Riverside County blaze, officials say

A brush fire that quickly spread through chest-high vegetation at Prado Dam near Corona was sparked by an unattended cooking fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

The Highway fire — named for its proximity to the interchange of Highways 71 and 91 — had burned about 1,020 acres and was 35% contained early Monday, Riverside County fire officials said.


About 300 evacuations were lifted overnight when near-perfect weather helped firefighters gain an edge over the flames. Overnight temperatures dropped into the 50s and humid air soaked the mountains while the winds died down to a gentle breeze, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brett Albright.

"They were pretty good conditions. You're not going to get much better if you're suppressing fire unless it's raining," Albright said.

The conditions were expected to stay ideal for firefighters Monday. Albright said temperatures are expected to hover in the mid-70s with winds topping out at 10 mph with moderate humidity.

No injuries have been reported and no structures have been damaged in the Highway fire, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said over the weekend.

More than 800 firefighters from at least six agencies battled the blaze, which was first reported about 6:12 p.m. Saturday and visible from miles away, according to Cal Fire spokeswoman Jennifer Fuhrman.

On Sunday morning, teams of firefighters hiked through brush to confront the northern portion of the blaze, which is inaccessible by road. Meanwhile, heavy smoke and dangerous conditions briefly thwarted attempts to survey the area by helicopter.

"There's so much smoke sitting in there," Mohler said Sunday morning. 

In all, two air tankers and two helicopters have been deployed to drop water over the fire, which has spread more rapidly than usual for this time of year because of the dry conditions created by drought.

The parched brush is also making fire officials especially vigilant in ensuring that any lingering hot spots and smoldering embers are extinguished. The fire has torn through acreage without fully burning the arid vegetation, leaving plenty of fuel that could easily reignite, Brown said.

"When you have a receptive fuel bed waiting for an ignition source, it's challenging," Brown said.

Dry conditions also contributed to other smaller brush fires this weekend. More than 100 firefighters battled a 12-acre blaze in Fullerton’s Brea Dam Recreational Area, prompting the evacuation of nearby homes. Five acres near Pacific Coast Highway and Kanan Dume Road in Malibu were scorched after a car accident Friday sparked a patch of brush, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department

Rain is expected in Riverside County and across Southern California between Wednesday and Friday as part of a low-pressure front heading south from the Gulf of Alaska, said National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Hall.

Times staff writers Frank Shyong and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report. 

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.