Firefighters pounded the Holy fire by air Friday as the blaze continued to threaten thousands of Riverside County homes.
The fire has destroyed at least 12 structures, but the U.S. Forest Service said that no additional homes had been lost as the flames spread.
On Friday night, officials said the fire had grown slightly to 19,107 acres, but containment jumped from 5% to 10%.
About 1,000 firefighters are on the scene, and more crews and aircraft continue to pour into the area. Residents cheered as plane after plane dropped water and retardant in the fire zone in an all-out air assault.
A squadron of 12 fixed-wing planes and 14 helicopters are pounding the fire.
The hot conditions and unpredictable weather have made it difficult for firefighters to get ahead of the blaze. But they have one big advantage in easy access to water from Lake Elsinore, which they have used for repeated air drops. The short distance from the lake has proved a key factor in tamping down the flames.
“If you have to travel a long distance you risk allowing the fire to regrow,” said Thanh Nguyen, public information officer for the fire effort.
Air bombardments occurred both day and night. They were halted for a short time Thursday night because of poor visibility. At least one aircraft had to make an emergency landing in San Bernardino on Friday after striking a bird.
“The air operations have been relentless,” Nguyen said. “When we drop so many gallons of water, we’re doing it to overwhelm the heat with the coolness of the water.”
Ana Tran and a friend had fled Tran’s McVicker Canyon home Thursday, rushing to their car and speeding past firefighters who were heading toward the blaze. Thick black smoke billowed above homes, and cars were blanketed in pinkish fire retardant.
The residents, like many others, made a frantic escape after winds picked up in Lake Elsinore and pushed the fire within feet of homes. More than 20,000 residents were urged to leave.
When Tran returned to her neighborhood, she found her home — still standing — under a smoky sky.
“It feels like a war zone,” she said, ash collecting on her forehead as she snapped photos of flames igniting behind a row of homes on Woodbridge Street near Crest Drive.
“I don’t even recognize the neighborhood,” added her friend, Bao Vinh.
A firefighter douses hot spots in the McVicker Canyon neighborhood of Lake Elsinore. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Kenneth Leishman’s home is pink from fire retardant in the McVicker Canyon neighborhood of Lake Elsinore. Leishman stayed to protect his house from the fire. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A bird perches on a rock Saturday morning at a lookout on Ortega Highway. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
An air tanker drops fire retardant on a flare-up of the Holy fire on a mountain ridge above Lake Elsinore, Calif. Saturday. (Gina Ferazzi / Gina Ferazzi)
People watch as the Holy fire rages on a mountainside in Temescal Valley. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Fire crews from Ventura County brace themselves as fire retardant falls on them after being dropped from the sky while they work to stop the progression of the Holy fire in Lake Elsinore. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Helicopters make drops near homes threatened by the Holy fire in Lake Elsinore. (Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)
As the sun rises above Lake Elsinore on Saturday morning, the overnight crew working to contain the Holy fire prepares to leave. Containment levels have continued to rise since the fire broke out Monday. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
The charred remains of vehicles lie along Ortega Highway on Saturday. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Residents keep watch Friday night as the Holy fire burns out of control in the hillsides above Temescal Valley. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters try to stop the progression of the Holy fire as it makes its way toward homes due to the strong evening winds from Lake Elsinore. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Stephen Woodward looks towards the sky as helicopters make rounds from Lake Elsinore to the hillside in their fight against the Holy fire on Friday. (Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)
Jeff Qualls stands on his roof to watch an air tanker drop fire retardant on flames from the Holy fire as it make its way down the hillside in Lake Elsinore, Calif. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Fire retardant paints a Lakeland Village neighborhood pink in Lake Elsinore, Calif. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters try to stop the progression of the Holy fire as it makes its way toward homes due to the strong evening winds in Lake Elsinore, Calif. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
An air tanker drops a load of water to save a home in Lake Elsinore, Calif. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
A helicopter fighting the Holy fire drops water on flames at North Main Divide along Ortega Highway. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters battle to save a home from a wall off flames as the Holy fire continues to burn out of control in Lake Elsinore, Calif. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Residents and law enforcement wear breathing mask to avoid the thick smoke created by Holy Fire in Lake Elsinore. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Chief Mark Lamont, center, oversees firefighting operations at North Main Divide along Ortega Highway. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Two dozers cut a fire line next to flames at North Main Divide along Ortega Highway. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Afternoon winds fan flames close to a home north of Grand Avenue in Lake Elsinore, Calif. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighter Jon Polansky rest after working an overnight shift at a lookout on Ortega Highway above Lake Elsinore. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Kai Cano rest after working an overnight shift at lookout on Ortega Highway. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters watch for flareups as they prevent the flames from the Holy fire from crossing the Ortega Highway in Lake Elsinore. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters conduct a burn operation to remove fuel around homes on Grand Avenue as the Holy fire grows to more than 10,000 acres. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Fire crews watch as a helicopter makes a water drop on a flareup as they prevent the Holy fire from crossing the Ortega Highway above Lake Elsinore. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
The Holy fire, which has grown to more than 10,000 acres, is reflected off the water of Lake Elsinore. (Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)
Jeff Itschner, 43, sprays water on the bushes at his in-laws’ home on Amorose Street near Leach Canyon in Lake Elsinore. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A helicopter makes a water drop on burning brush on a hill across from homes in Lake Elsinore. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Manuel Trujillo packs his belongings as flames from the Holy fire approach his Lake Elsinore neighborhood. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters struggle to keep the Holy fire from jumping Lincoln Street toward homes in Lake Elsinore. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Residents evacuate the 29000 block of Sandpiper Drive in Lake Elsinore as the Holy fire approaches homes. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Flames come close to homes in the 29000 block of Sandpiper Drive in Lake Elsinore. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Worried residents watch as flames advance toward their homes on Sandpiper Drive in Lake Elsinore. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Stephanie Caceres packs her belongings into her car as the Holy fire approaches homes on Sandpiper Drive in Lake Elsinore. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Cal Fire’s Mario Gonzalez keeps an eye on the Holy fire raging near homes in Leach Canyon. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
An air tanker fights the Holy fire, which forced more evacuations of neighborhoods in the Lake Elsinore area Wednesday. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
The Holy fire on Wednesday approaches Lake Elsinore’s McVicker Canyon neighborhood, which is under mandatory evacuation orders. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Two men monitor the Holy fire from a rooftop as it approaches the McVicker Canyon neighborhood in Lake Elsinore. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The Trabuco Canyon home of arson suspect Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, stands untouched amid charred remains in his neighborhood. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Chris O’Neal, a video journalist from Laguna Niguel, is silhouetted by a smoke-obscured sun as a fire helicopter keeps an eye on the Holy fire approaching McVicker Canyon. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The Holy fire reached very close to homes in a Lake Elsinore neighborhood forcing evacuation and deployment large air tankers. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
The Holy fire burns toward homes in a Lake Elsinore neighborhood, forcing evacuation orders and the deployment of large air tankers. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Smoke from the Holy fire darkens the sky over the Glen Ivy Golf Club as the blaze burns on the mountain ridges around Corona. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
The Holy fire in the Cleveland National Forest pushed closer to some homes Wednesday, prompting a new round of mandatory evacuations. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Lester and Blanca Fronk watch for planes fighting the Holy Fire in Lake Elsinore. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
U.S. Forest Service fire crews make their way to the Holy fire, burning on mountain ridges in the Cleveland National Forest near Corona. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Bob Tyler clears his driveway covered by ashes from Holy Fire falling on his neighborhood of 11000 block of Kingbird Drive in Corona. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A plane drops fire retardant on the Holy fire burning in Cleveland National Forest above a home in Lake Elsinore on Aug. 7. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A man prepares to fish as smoke rises from the Holy fire in the Cleveland National Forest in Lake Elsinore on Aug. 6. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
A mile or so away, Apolonio Escalante and his wife walked around scanning the aftermath of the fire that had swept through their Rice Canyon neighborhood. Hundreds of homes sit across from the canyons; some are snuggled deeper in the terrain. The fire left trees stripped bare, everything black. Street signage was damaged.
Before the fire came through, Escalante said, he’d been at his construction job when his wife called with an urgent request: Get home, flames are nearby.
The couple loaded valuables and corralled their 6-year-old German shepherd, Muñeca, into a dog crate and put her onto the bed of their truck. Then they got the hoses out, watching flames rise 40 to 100 feet high.
“We were watering everything,” his wife, Josefina Escalante, said. “It looked like someone had poured gasoline on the fire. … It took off.”
The fire had burned close to Rice Canyon Elementary School, but the campus did not appear damaged. The Escalantes said their home has water, power and gas, so they won’t have to find shelter elsewhere.
Prosecutors on Thursday filed several charges against a man suspected of setting the blaze.
In an interview with a reporter before his arrest, Forrest Clark, 51, said he had no idea how the fire started. “I was asleep. I had two earplugs in,” Clark said, according to a video obtained by KABC-TV Channel 7.
The Trabuco Canyon resident faces one felony count each of aggravated arson of five or more inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest and criminal threats, and two felony counts of resisting an executive officer.
If convicted, Clark faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison.
Meanwhile, the Lake Elsinore Unified School District announced that the start of the school year, set for Monday, would be postponed a week, until Aug. 20.
In Los Angeles County, two men were charged with setting a separate brush fire near the Morris Dam, a reservoir in the San Gabriel Mountains. Christopher Paul Ortega, 20, of Glendora, and Santino Francisco Gnaulati, 21, of Covina, each face one felony count of arson of a structure or forest.
Sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors say the men, who have pleaded not guilty, started the fire near Highway 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Glendora early Tuesday. Firefighters quickly got a handle on the blaze, which burned a quarter of an acre.
If convicted, Ortega and Gnaulati face up to six years in state prison. They are due back in court later this month.
Early Friday morning, Tera Swick stood in the front yard of her Lake Elsinore home, her arms behind her head, watching the flames coming down the mountain.
“I don’t even know which way to watch,” she said.
Only two hours earlier the fire had seemed to slow, moving away from the neighborhood.
But now ash was falling and the wind was picking up.
A truck loaded with motorbikes and other valuables stood running on Nottingham Way, slowing the movement of firetrucks.
“That guy has to move his truck,” Swick said.
Two minutes later, a man came running toward the vehicle, apologizing and moving the truck.
Swick and her mother and brother-in-law sat by the driveway waiting for authorities to force them to leave.
She and her family praised the firefighting aircraft.
“They’re just amazing,” she said. “We’re cheering them on every time they’re making drops.”
Firefighters are battling nearly 20 fires across the state, and officials on Friday announced new progress.
Yosemite Valley will reopen to visitors at 9 a.m. Tuesday after being closed for 20 days because of the Ferguson fire. The National Park Service also announced Friday that the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias will reopen at 9 a.m. Monday.
Ruben Vives is a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Times. A native of Guatemala, he got his start in journalism by writing for The Times’ Homicide Report in 2007. He helped uncover the financial corruption in the city of Bell that led to criminal charges against eight city officials. The 2010 investigative series won the Pulitzer Prize for public service and other prestigious awards.
Alene Tchekmedyian is an investigative reporter at the Los Angeles Times. She previously covered the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, focusing on accountability stories and writing about failures by officials to comply with transparency laws. Before joining The Times in 2016, she reported on crime and policing for the Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader.