Firefighters battling to contain Southern California wildfire though many homes remain threatened

Nov 1, 2023, 12:44 PM

AGUANGA, Calif. (AP) — More than 1,200 firefighters are attacking a big Southern California wildfire, and fire officials said Wednesday they’ve made inroads in containing the flames though many homes remain threatened.

The size of the Highland Fire remained unchanged at just under 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) after minimal overnight activity but containment grew to 15%, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement.

One firefighter was reported injured as crews tackled the fire, aided by air tankers and helicopters.

Gusty, dry Santa Ana winds were blowing Monday when the fire erupted near rural Aguanga in Riverside County about 53 miles (85 kilometers) north of San Diego. Evacuation orders were issued for 4,000 residents as flames spread rapidly in the brush-covered hill country.

As of Wednesday morning, Cal Fire tallied seven structures destroyed, six damaged and 2,356 threatened. At least two of those were homes destroyed by the flames, residents said in news media interviews.

Retiree George Boyles told The Press-Enterprise that the fire seemed far away at first but suddenly was coming toward his home. He and his wife, Lucila, initially planned to drive out but instead had to ride out the firestorm in a cleared area of dirt on their property.

Their house and garage were destroyed, said Boyles, adding they had paid off the property in April.

Another resident, Luis Quinonez, was away when one of his two properties burned to the ground. No one was hurt, and his dogs, cats, chickens and roosters all survived, he told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The Santa Anas weakened to the point where most gusts were below 35 mph (56 kph) but relative humidity levels remained very low, keeping fire weather conditions elevated, the National Weather Service said.

Firefighters were on the lookout for erratic fire behavior, and extremely steep and rugged terrain also posed a challenge, Cal Fire said.

The Santa Ana winds, which have a long history of stoking the region’s wildfires, blow out of the interior toward the Pacific Coast. The dry air saps moisture from vegetation, making it easier to burn. Forecasters predicted a return of moist ocean air by Friday.

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Firefighters battling to contain Southern California wildfire though many homes remain threatened