‘It feels like a war zone’: Lake Elsinore residents fight to save homes as Holy fire rages

Raw clips from the Holy fire, which began Monday in Orange County and burned more than 10,236 acres through the Cleveland National Forest and into Riverside County.


The Holy fire marched toward Lake Elsinore on Thursday afternoon, forcing a new round of evacuations as flames came perilously close to homes.

Residents living in homes on the mountainside of Lake Street and in the southeast region from Grand Avenue to Ortega Highway were told by the U.S. Forest Service to leave their homes immediately as the fire moved their way.

The Holy fire began Monday in Orange County and burned more than 10,236 acres through the Cleveland National Forest and into Riverside County. It was 5% contained. As night fell, the fire could be seen from across Southern California as it burned along the peaks of the Santa Ana Mountains.


On McVicker Canyon Road and Edgewood Drive, Todd Campbell sat on a ladder leaning against his garage. A second ladder leaned on the rooftop.

Despite the evacuation orders, Campbell had stayed behind to protect his two-story home. He was using garden hoses to water his roof, trying to keep an eye on embers that could spark spot fires.

“I put one out on my neighbors’ side,” he said.

For a while, the situation looked grim. Trees swayed as the winds continued to gust. Ash fell from the sky as smoke from the charred canyons reduced visibility.

Above, a DC-10 was dropping fire retardant and helicopters swooped down to make water drops. Still, the flames raged.

“It got to a point where it felt fruitless because of the intensity of the heat and winds,” Campbell said. “It was too overwhelming.”

In the end, the air attacks made a difference.

“The firemen have done a really good job,” Campbell said.

Ana Tran and her friend, Bao Vinh, 33, got in her car when the fire approached. They opened the garage door and saw fire retardant falling from above on homes, cars and plants.


They then noticed the flickering flames behind homes, black smoke billowing and ash falling.

“It was so scary,” she said.

Tran sped past firefighters heading in to defend homes and neighbors who were also trying to flee the inferno. But she decided to pull to the side and wait it out. After a while, she returned to find her neighborhood still standing.

But billowing smoke made her feel like her neighborhood had been attacked.

“It feels like a war zone,” she said.

“I don’t even recognize the neighborhood,” Vinh added.

Officials said Thursday night that despite the raging battle, no new homes had been lost. Poor weather conditions, however, temporarily grounded aircraft. Those operations did eventually resume. Even though many in Orange County saw flames from the blaze tonight, officials said the fire was not burning back in that county.

Authorities say the Holy fire was intentionally set.

Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was arrested on suspicion of two counts of felony arson, one count of felony threat to terrorize and one count of misdemeanor resisting arrest in connection with the ignition of the blaze.

It was not immediately clear how the fire was set. Clark was booked Wednesday and was being held on $1-million bond.


RELATED: As Holy fire raged, arson suspect told newsman he had no idea how it started: ‘I was asleep, I had two earplugs in’ »

(Jon Schleuss / Los Angeles Times)

Susan Kang Schroeder, spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney’s office, said it would file criminal charges against Clark.

“We expect to bring him to justice for these terrible crimes,” she said.

Clark is slated to appear in court Thursday, records show.

The Holy fire, which was 5% contained and burning toward Horsethief Canyon and McVicker Drainage, broke out Monday and has destroyed 12 structures.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order Thursday to expedite recovery efforts in areas hardest hit by California’s wildfires.


Assisting fire-ravaged communities in Lake, Siskiyou, Shasta, Mendocino and Napa counties, the order suspends regulations on clearing fire-related debris and eliminates limits on the number of hours emergency personnel can work. More than 13,000 firefighters are battling blazes across the state.

The order also suspends planning and zoning requirements and waives state fees for manufactured homes and mobile home parks, extends a state ban on price gouging during emergencies, and allows accelerated hiring of additional personnel for emergency and recovery operations.

It comes nearly two weeks after the governor declared a state of emergency in Mendocino, Lake and Napa counties. Last week, Brown announced that the White House had approved his request for a federal major disaster declaration in Shasta County.

Eighteen wildfires that continue to burn across the state have scorched about 600,000 acres, an area nearly the size of Sacramento County. The largest is the Mendocino Complex fire — made up of the Ranch and River fires — which has burned more than 300,000 acres and is the biggest fire ever recorded in California. It was 51% contained as of Thursday morning.

Times staff writer James Queally and Alex Riggins of the San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.


Twitter: @latvives


9:45 p.m.: This article was updated with new details.

6:20 p.m.: This article was updated with new fire figures.

5:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information from the scene of the fire.

5:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information from the fire near Lake Elsinore.

2:50 p.m.: This article was updated with a new fire in the Ramona area.

2:30 p.m.: This article was updated with news of new evacuations as the fire approached Lake Elsinore.

7:50 a.m. Aug. 9: This article was updated with the latest figures on acreage burned.

4:55 p.m.: This article was updated with new acreage for the Holy fire and comments from fire officials.

2:40 p.m.: This article was updated with new evacuations.

2 p.m.: This article was updated with wildfire updates and comments from fire officials.

This article was originally published at 12:10 p.m. Aug. 8