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Blustery winds aggravate Cerritos and Airport fires in Riverside County

Firefighters battle the Cerritos fire in Riverside County.
Firefighters battle the Cerritos fire, which broke out in Riverside County on Thursday and forced residents in the rural city of Nuevo to evacuate.
(OnScene.TV)

A brush fire spurred by high winds broke out early Thursday in the Nuevo community of Riverside County, forcing residents to evacuate, authorities said.

Dubbed the Cerritos fire, the blaze has singed 200 acres and was 25% contained Thursday evening, officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

Calling it a “particularly dangerous situation,” the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning indicating critical fire weather conditions through 10 p.m. Saturday in Riverside County. Winds were gusting up to 35 mph early Thursday in the region.

Amid the blustery winds and bone-dry conditions, Southern California Edison shut off power to more than 50,000 customers Wednesday night, including 24,000 customers in Riverside County.

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Nearly 250,000 additional customers across eight counties are under consideration for a shutoff as well, Edison spokesman Ron Gales said Thursday.

The blaze, which ignited late Wednesday, ballooned to 7,200 acres, and officials said multiple structures may have been damaged by the fire.

The Cerritos fire is one of three burning in Riverside County. On Tuesday evening, a brush fire broke out near Corona Airport. The Airport fire, as it has been called, grew slowly Wednesday and had swelled to 700 acres by Thursday evening . As of 7 p.m., it was 10% contained. It was not threatening any structures, officials said.

With flames lapping nearby, officials shuttered the Corona Airport until at least noon Friday, according to Cindy Solis, spokeswoman for the city of Corona.

The Wilson fire was reported at about 11:42 a.m. in Jurupa Valley near the border with San Bernardino County. Fire officials said the 10-acre fire started in multiple mulch piles and jumped Brown Avenue into a pallet yard with a rapid rate of spread, threatening multiple structures.

By about 2:15 p.m., the fire had spread to the riverbanks of the Santa Ana River bottom. Fire officials said an evacuation order is in place “for those physically in the river bottom area.”

“Depending on the conditions of the fire, we might need to reassess that [and extend the closure],” Solis said.

Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said weather conditions are a major factor in the blazes.

“Cooler temperatures helped a bit, but obviously the winds and the fact that we haven’t seen any rainfall” drove the fires, Tolmachoff said.

The Cerritos fire sparked just after 2 a.m. Thursday, when vegetation ignited in the 23900 block of California Avenue and began to spread at a moderate rate, according to a Cerritos fire incident report.

When firefighters arrived, the fire had burned about 10 acres, but in less than two hours, it had charred 200 acres.

A video posted around 7:30 a.m. by the Riverside County Fire Department shows a line of emergency vehicles heading toward burning hills. Columns of smoke could be seen wafting in the early morning air.

As day broke, firefighters began using helicopters to drop retardant “to strengthen containment,” according to a tweet posted by the Fire Department.

An evacuation order for residents living on California Avenue, north of Tres Cerritos Avenue, was downgraded to an evacuation warning Thursday afternoon. Earlier evacuation orders for those living on Tres Cerritos Avenue and Los Rancherias Road in West Hemet were lifted.

When it broke out, the Airport fire initially threatened a small residential community north of the airport, near Stagecoach Park. An evacuation warning went out to the neighborhood at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, but all evacuation notices were lifted about four hours later.

On Thursday, officials closed the 71 Freeway in both directions between the 91 and the 83.

In Orange County, a wind-whipped and rapidly spreading wildfire was threatening homes and prompting evacuations early Thursday. The Bond fire exploded overnight and had burned 4,000 acres, the Orange County Fire Authority said.

Weather officials warned earlier this week that strong Santa Ana winds, combined with drier-than-normal conditions, could lead to wildfires.

David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, called it “a likely critical situation for fire weather.”

Winds are expected to peak on Thursday and Friday, Sweet said.

“Once these winds settle down, that will quickly change the conditions for the firefighters, and they should be able to get a pretty good handle on things,” Tolmachoff said.


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