Deadly Fairview fire up to 4,500 acres burned, as authorities expand evacuations – The Mercury News

The deadly Fairview fire burning in the rocky foothills several miles southeast of Hemet more than doubled in size Tuesday, Sept. 6, after an anticipated shift in the wind pushed the flames eastward through brush that had not burned in years, the Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department said.

Flames had burned 4,500 acres, and crews had contained 5% of the perimeter, Riverside County Fire Department spokesperson Robert Roseen said Tuesday evening. Officials previously said they believed the fire could grow as large as 7,000 acres.

As fire officials expected, the wind reversed course midday Tuesday and new plumes of dark smoke rose as flames chewed through the brush near where the fire started at around 2 p.m. Monday at Fairview Avenue and Bautista Road.

As of Tuesday evening, winds were pushing toward the southwest, according to Roseen.

“There’s erratic winds — that combined with heat and humidity are pretty dangerous for fire behavior,” Roseen said.

The fire comes amid a major heat wave sweeping Southern California. As firefighters continued battling the blaze and others in the region, the state Office of Emergency Services issued an alert Tuesday evening warning of a strain on California’s energy grid with possible power outages because of the extreme heat.

The blaze was headed toward Cactus and Bautista canyons early Tuesday, prompting an evacuation warning for Bautista Canyon Road, south of Stetson Avenue and north of the Two Streams trailhead. Bautista Canyon is sparsely populated, said Capt. Richard Cordova, a Cal Fire spokesman.

Roseen said about 3,400 residences had been evacuated as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, not counting evacuation orders added at 4:45 p.m. That newest evacuation zone spreads south from Highway 74, west of Mountain Center, north of Cactus valley and toward Anza, north of Highway 371 to the forest boundary.

Monday’s evacuation orders largely remained in effect on Tuesday: South of Stetson Avenue, north of Cactus Valley Road, west of Bautista Canyon Road and east of State Street. Deputies were patrolling the evacuated areas for looters and any residents in need.

Cordova said that on Monday, the fire burned uphill in Avery Canyon, too fast for firefighters to stop it before the flames reached homes, even though two air tankers and a helicopter were launched from nearby Hemet-Ryan Air Base.

There are two drainages that act as chimneys in the area, which raised concern among fire officials even before this fire started. The talk, Cordova said, was “If everything lined up, we were going to have major issues regardless of clearance (around homes).”

“The fire was in alignment with the canyon, with the wind and the topography, so everything lined up for a critical rate of spread at that given time in that canyon,” said Division Chief Josh Janssen, the Fairview incident commander. “And that, coupled with the drought-stricken fuels in that canyon, is what allowed that fire to rapidly expand and overcome some of the citizens.”

The two people who died on Monday perished inside a car as they tried to flee a home in the 42400 block of Avery Canyon Road, said Sgt. Brandi Swan, a Riverside County sheriff’s spokeswoman. A hilltop home in that block was destroyed.

The victims had not been identified, she said, because of the severity of their injuries. A third victim from that car was being treated for moderate to severe burns, she said.

Seven structures were destroyed Monday with several more damaged, Cal Fire said. No additional homes were reported burned since.

In Avery Canyon, on Gibbel Road, at least two mobile homes burned. Those homes had cars, bicycles and other property in the yards that caught fire as well. At one of the mobile homes, the heat melted the rims of a car. The molten metal trickled down the driveway like silver lava.

Atop Avery Canyon Road, a mostly unpaved stretch barely wide enough for two cars, the flames spared almost nothing.

At one destroyed home, fire flickered late Tuesday morning in spots. On a metal pole, a cloth basketball net and metal rim survived, but the plastic backboard had melted into a grotesque shape. What appeared to once having been an off-road vehicle similar to a dune buggy was now just a frame. Quail scurried across the ash-laden ground.

For the home itself, charred wooden beams remained. Shattered glass littered the ground.

The homes in Avery Canyon sit on large lots with outcroppings of huge boulders. Those boulders, and clearance around the structures, likely saved many homes from burning.

The fire did subside enough Tuesday morning that utility companies sent repair crews up the hill. One crew replaced a charred electrical pole on Gibbel that had nearly been sawed through by the flames.

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