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Apple fire near Banning grows to 20,000 acres, prompting evacuation of thousands of homes

Firefighters on Sunday continued to battle the Apple fire that has burned 20,000 acres in Cherry Valley and surrounding areas of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, destroying one home and prompting evacuations of thousands of others.

More than 370 firefighters, assisted by several helicopters and air tankers, responded to the fire, which began Friday and sent billowing clouds of smoke hundreds of feet into the air that could be seen for miles. Firefighters were battling the blaze in triple-digit temperatures that prompted the National Weather Service to issue an extreme heat warning.

As of early Sunday, the fire was zero percent contained.

Evacuation orders remain in place for residents north of Dutton Street and east of Oak Glen Road, south of the San Bernardino-Riverside county line. They also include residents north of Gilman Street in the Banning Bluff area.

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New evacuation orders were put in place Saturday in Banning for residents north of Wilson Street, east of Sunset Avenue and west of Hathaway Street. Fire officials said residents can check whether their address is in an evacuation zone through the RivCoReady.org website.

An evacuation warning was upgraded to an order Saturday evening for San Bernardino County residents of the Potato Canyon area west to Raywood Flat. A warning was in place farther to the east for residents north of Morongo Road, east of Millard Canyon Road and west of Whitewater Canyon Road.

April Newman, a public information officer with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Riverside County Fire Department, said Saturday afternoon that roughly 7,800 residents in over 2,500 households had been ordered to evacuate.

An evacuation center was opened at Beaumont High School for people and animals.

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The vegetation fire was reported at 4:55 p.m. Friday in the 9000 block of Oak Glen Road, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

Another department spokesperson, Fernando Herrera, said Friday that open land with thick vegetation has provided “quite a bit of fuel for that fire to continue to burn [and] have a lot of intensity.”

He said the fire was burning very close to homes.

A satellite image shows the pyrocumulus plume from the Apple fire rising about 32,000 feet into the atmosphere
The pyrocumulus plume from the Apple fire rises about 32,000 feet into the atmosphere and is visible from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES West satellite. The image was taken at 6 p.m. Saturday.
(NOAA and Los Angeles Times)
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“A lot of people’s backyards were on fire,” Herrera said. “It ran in between homes and around homes. It definitely was very threatening. We could have lost homes, but we brought in a massive amount of ground resources to do structure defense, protect the life and property of all these residents.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

In Los Angeles County, a 150-acre brush fire was burning around Castaic Lake, north of Santa Clarita, according to the county Fire Department. No structures were threatened.

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