Motorcycle crash sparked 350-acre fire in Cleveland National Forest

A fast-moving wildfire at a remote off-road vehicle park in the Cleveland National Forest ignited Thursday afternoon after a motorcyclist crashed into a tree, officials said.

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The fire, reported about 12:30 p.m. about eight miles down South Main Divide Road from Ortega Highway, grew from 20 to 200 acres in less than two hours and sent huge plumes of thick, black smoke into the air. By Thursday evening, the blaze had burned 350 ares and was 15% contained.

The 18-year-old man was riding alone down a dirt road when he hit a bump and lost control of the Yamaha motorcycle, crashing into a tree, said Officer Mike Lassig of the California Highway Patrol. The throttle of the motorcycle got stuck and the tank sprang a leak, lighting the tree and surrounding brush on fire.


The rider attempted to put out the flames “using what was around him,” then ran two to three miles to grab his cellphone in his truck and call authorities, Lassig said.

The rider, who was wearing a helmet and off-road motorcycle gear, sustained minor scrapes, Lassig added.

Hundreds of firefighters — including air and ground crews — were battling the blaze, dubbed the Wildomar fire.

The fire is moving in the direction of homes in the La Cresta and Lakeland Village neighborhoods, and authorities ordered evacuations for five residences on Hixson Truck Trail.

The off-roading trails are mostly used on the weekends by motorcyclists and Jeep drivers, said Jeanna Smith, an administrative assistant for Cleveland National Forest. Riders must be equipped with spark arresters, Smith said.

“We have pretty strict rules” because of the fire danger, she added.

In some areas, the trails are surrounded by oily chaparral up to 20 feet tall that has not burned in decades, Smith said.

“The fuels are still really, really dry out there,” Smith said. “Luckily the winds aren’t blowing like they were [during] the Canyon 2 fire” in Anaheim, she said.


9:30 p.m.: This article was updated with a containment figure.

6:05 p.m.: This article was updated with a new acreage figure.

5:30 p.m.: This article was updated with the cause of the wildfire.

4:40 p.m.: This article was updated with more information about the wildfire.

This article was originally published at 3:20 p.m.