A persistent 7,500-acre brush fire that has destroyed at least six buildings in a remote Riverside County canyon and forced several hundred residents out of their homes since Tuesday was still burning this morning, although it appeared halted half a mile from Lake Elsinore's shore.
By midday, nearly 2,000 firefighters had contained 40% of the blaze, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Dave Reyder said.
Red Cross workers at an evacuation center who fed 100 residents fast-food hamburgers for dinner Wednesday night said the fire had claimed 15 homes. Officials with the California and U.S. forest services could not confirm that report, however.
Residents in the communities of El Cariso, Lakeland Village and Rancho Capistrano were evacuated by dusk Wednesday as the fire, which fire officials believe was started by a person, edged up to back yards in some neighborhoods.
Cause Not Determined
The cause of the blaze, and whether it was intentionally set, have not been determined, authorities said.
As temperatures and humidity dropped overnight, the fire died down some, and further evacuations were stopped by mid-morning, Reyder said.
Red Cross officials said as many as 100 residents watched rented movies Wednesday night at Lake Elsinore High School, the official evacuation center.
"It was mostly kids watching the movies," said Patti Hanna, Red Cross shelter manager. "The adults all wanted to talk about what they might lose and what they had lost."
By 9:30 a.m. today, the center was empty; residents had gone home to survey their property.
A 25-mile stretch of Ortega Highway, the primary route between Riverside County and south Orange County, will remain closed until at least Saturday, California Highway Patrol officials said.
Whether the temporary halt in the spread of the wind-stoked fire persists will largely depend on Mother Nature, Reyder said. The afternoon forecast--temperatures in the 90s with low humidity and gusty winds of up to 25 m.p.h.--did not look promising, he added.
As in a zone defense, firefighters concentrated on staking out homes and buildings in residential areas of Lake Elsinore, toward which the blaze burned, fire officials said. Huge fire lines winding around the city, home to 9,000, were cut in an effort to prevent the blaze from moving closer to homes.
Cathy Gorton, a California Department of Forestry spokeswoman, said thick and parched brush was cut away in the Lake Elsinore area, around the north and northwest sides of the town. Firefighters swarmed through Morril Canyon, a few miles from the lake, trying to stop the fire from sweeping through the arroyo southeast to the 200-home community of Rancho Capistrano, which was evacuated Wednesday afternoon.