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Most Apple fire evacuation orders lifted as firefighters gain ground

Scorched terrain surrounds a home off Bluff Street in Banning, Calif., as the Apple fire smolders Tuesday.
Scorched terrain surrounds a home off Bluff Street in Banning, Calif., as the Apple fire smolders in the background on Tuesday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Riverside County residents who were forced to flee when the Apple fire exploded in size can now return home as crews continue to gain ground in their battle against the blaze.

Evacuation orders for areas east of Oak Glen Road, as well as west of Potrero Road and north of Wilson Street, have been lifted.

Orders are still in place, however, for parts of San Bernardino County — specifically areas east of Oak Glen Road, including Pine Bench and Potato Canyon, officials said.

Evacuation warnings also remain in effect east of Potrero, north of Morongo Road and west of Whitewater Canyon in Riverside County, as well as for Forest Falls, Rimrock and Pioneertown in San Bernardino County.

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The San Gorgonio Wilderness area also remains closed for the time being, according to San Bernardino National Forest officials.

The Apple fire has charred 27,319 acres since it was first reported at 4:55 p.m. Friday in the 9000 block of Oak Glen Road, north of Cherry Valley, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The blaze — which was 30% contained as of Wednesday morning — has destroyed 12 structures, including four homes. One injury has been reported.

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Officials said Monday that the fire was sparked by a malfunctioning vehicle.

The Apple fire, at more than 26,000 acres, is burning areas that haven’t seen fire in years, providing fuel for explosive growth. As of Monday, it was 5% contained.

With most evacuation orders now lifted, the American Red Cross has closed its temporary evacuation center at Beaumont High School.

San Bernardino County residents in need of assistance can still contact the organization at (571) 595-7774.

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Although such shelters are common during natural disasters and other emergencies, their operations have been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as health officials warn that crowded conditions can lead to further outbreaks of the disease.

“This is an unusual situation for us,” Red Cross spokesman Ken Reich said. “For the first time, we’re setting people up in hotels instead of a shelter, where coronavirus could be a real problem.”

Because of social distancing and other safety requirements, the evacuation center at Beaumont High School could house only 50 residents if the county were to run out of hotel rooms, according to Shane Reichardt, a spokesman for the Riverside County Emergency Management Department.

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Times staff writers Louis Sahagun and Joseph Serna contributed to this report.


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