Two dead, multiple structures burn as fast-moving fire near Hemet explodes
Two people were killed and one person was injured Monday in a rapidly expanding fire near Hemet that burned at least seven structures, according to fire officials, while another fast-moving blaze in the San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear Lake also prompted evacuation orders.
The Fairview fire east of Hemet ignited around 3 p.m. and quickly exploded to more than 2,000 acres, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. It was 5% contained as of 10 p.m. Monday, fire officials said. They did not give further details on the deaths. A third person was taken to the hospital with burns. No firefighters were injured, officials said.
“This fire … was spreading very quickly before firefighters even got on scene,” a spokesman for the Riverside County Fire Department and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on a Twitter livestream. Hemet hit a high of 110 degrees on Monday as searing heat enveloped the state.
About 3,250 homes were under evacuation orders Monday night. Evacuations were initially ordered south of Thornton Avenue, north of Polly Butte Road, west of Fairview Avenue and east of State Street and then a few hours later expanded to include areas south of Stetson Avenue, north of Cactus Road, west of Fairview Avenue, and east of State Street.
Shortly before 11 p.m., the Hemet Unified School District announced that all schools in the district would be closed Tuesday and remain so “until conditions improve.”
“This decision was not made lightly,” the district’s statement said, noting that given the heat, the potential for power outages, and the current level of fire containment, it was “necessary to ensure the safety of students, staff and families.”
At sunset Monday, flames raged through the hills above houses as columns of smoke billowed into the sky, reaching the Orange County coast. The fire consumed cars and blackened trees. Television news reports showed aerial shots of structures engulfed in shooting flames.
Some of the homes in the area could be reached on dirt roads, fire officials said. Residents on Twitter noted that many in the area keep horses, complicating evacuations.
Around the same time and about 75 miles north, the Radford fire ignited just west of Sugarloaf near Big Bear Lake. By 7:15 p.m., the fire had grown to 200 acres with no containment.
Initially, firefighters said no structures were threatened, but shortly after 6 p.m. the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department issued a mandatory evacuation order for people living east of Glass Road and Highway 38 to South Fork River Road.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation. The fire danger level for Big Bear Valley is “very high.”
“I’m in Perris and can see both fires if I stand on my street corner,” one person tweeted Monday night. “To the left I can see the Radford and to the right the Fairview.”
Meanwhile, fires continued to threaten parts of Northern California. In addition to blazes in Siskiyou County that consumed a neighborhood in the town of Weed and left two dead, firefighters were battling a brush fire Monday evening near Rodeo in Contra Costa County.
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