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Prado Dam fire spreads to 1,020 acres; caused by unattended fire

Brush fire near Prado Dam in Chino Hills spreads, though evacuation order lifted

A fast-moving brush fire continued to burn Sunday at the Prado Dam near Corona, but the evacuation order covering 300 nearby homes was lifted as crews made headway in containing the blaze.

By Sunday night, 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, Riverside County fire officials said.

They said the blaze had been caused by an unattended cooking fire.

Winds averaging about 15 mph coupled with the extreme dryness of the thick brush made battling the flames especially challenging, said Capt. Liz Brown with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention. She urged motorists across the region to be cautious about the low-hanging smoke continuing to rise from the burn area.

“Now the smoke has moved all over the county and into other counties,” Brown said. “Stay indoors and keep your inhaler nearby.”

The smoke blew as far as Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, about 90 miles away, prompting the Ventura County Fire Department and Simi Valley police to issue public notices reassuring residents that the source of the smoke most likely was not local.

No injuries have been reported and no structures have been damaged in the Highway fire, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said. About 300 homes initially were threatened by the blaze, but by Sunday afternoon the danger had subsided and closed roads were reopened, Brown said.

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.

But he said the forecast was for light showers, unlikely to aid in firefighting.

Officials declined to say when they thought the Highway fire would be fully contained. They said the strong, unpredictable winds made such a forecast difficult.

Times staff writers Ruben Vives and Nicole Charky contributed to this report. 

For more Southern California news follow @FrankShyong and @MattHjourno.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

9:55 p.m.: This story has been updated throughout with additional details.

5:34 p.m.: Updates on acres burned and smoke dangers.

3:10 p.m.: Smoking warning update.

2:50 p.m.: Updates on acre burned, smoke issues.

10:28 a.m.: This story was updated with new information about the fire's extent and the lifting of the evacuation order.

4 a.m.: This story was updated with information from the scene and from Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler. 

12:31 a.m.: This story was updated to include information about two evacuation centers. 

12:25 a.m.: This story was updated to include that the fire has spread to approximately 300 acres and is 30% contained. 

12:22 a.m.: This story was updated to include that 300 homes were evacuated and more than 800 firefighters are battling the blaze. 

11:52 p.m. Saturday: This story was updated throughout with additional background and information.

11:34 p.m. Saturday: This story was updated throughout with additional background and information.

10:30 a.m. Sunday: This story was updated with new information.

This story was first published at 10:36 p.m. Saturday.

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