Firefighters report progress against 32,000-acre Apple fire in Riverside County

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

A massive vegetation fire continues to burn more than a week after it broke out in Riverside County but firefighters are getting a handle on the blaze as their focus shifts from protecting homes to keeping the flames from spreading, officials said.

The Apple fire had burned 32,412 acres, destroyed four homes and was 40% contained as of Sunday morning. Officials estimated it would take nine more days to fully contain the fire, which continued to burn northeast into the steep and remote terrain of the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

Fire officials on Saturday dispatched a 10-person team into the forest to fight the fire from the ground and planned to send in a second team Sunday.

Along the southern flank of the blaze, firefighters were scouring the perimeter in the Millard Canyon area, looking for hot spots and dousing smoldering embers.


All mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted, but evacuation warnings were still in effect for Forest Falls, Pioneertown, Rimrock and Morongo Valley in San Bernardino County and the Whitewater area in Riverside County.

The San Gorgonio Wilderness was closed, as were U.S. Forest Service recreation areas in the Forest Falls area and the Pacific Crest Trail between the Cottonwood Trailhead and Pipes Canyon Road.

Still, fire officials said they did not expect the perimeter of the fire to grow much Sunday after they saw no forward progression the day before.

The fire started July 31 in the 9000 block of Oak Glen Road. It was ignited by a diesel-fueled vehicle that spewed burning carbon from its exhaust system, authorities said.

On Thursday and Friday, firefighters set controlled fires along the eastern edge of the fire to burn away vegetation and limit the flames’ spread. On Sunday, they credited those efforts with helping suppress the fire’s forward movement, saying that allowed them to shift their focus from protecting communities to preventing the fire from growing.

More than 2,700 personnel were fighting the blaze, but officials said that number could decrease as they started to scale down the effort, especially along the southern and western edges of the fire, where the threat to developed communities had been reduced.