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Blaze Threatens Homes, Freeway

About 100 houses in Moreno Valley are evacuated, and a stretch of the 60 is closed as 2,000 acres burn in Riverside County.

October 06, 2005|Lance Pugmire and Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writers

A rapidly spreading wildfire burned more than 2,000 acres Wednesday in Riverside County's San Timoteo Canyon, coming within several feet of a major freeway and prompting the evacuation of 100 homes in Moreno Valley, authorities said.

Fanned by warm, dry winds and moving through pockets of thick vegetation, the blaze in the area known as the Badlands prompted authorities to close a 10-mile stretch of the 60 Freeway between Moreno Valley and Beaumont after a wall of flames approached the shoulder of the highway.

Riverside County firefighters battled the flames just north of the road in an attempt to keep the fire from leaping over the asphalt and burning south.

The blaze, whose cause was unknown, began shortly after 3 p.m. and had covered 500 acres in just two hours. It doubled in size just two hours later, burning within a mile of hillside homes in northeast Moreno Valley.

About 6 p.m., Riverside County sheriff's deputies evacuated three streets as a large black cloud of smoke formed overhead. Dogs and horses could be heard barking and neighing loudly.

"As long as I've been here, none of this undergrowth has burned off," said resident Gary Almond as he doused his home with a garden hose. Almond was one of many residents ordered to evacuate Highland Boulevard, and he and others eyed the blaze nervously.

"I think this has potential to get here," he said.

Almond -- like other residents along Highland Boulevard, Ironwood Avenue and Theodore Street -- had refused to leave his home despite the evacuation order. But as darkness fell, authorities said they would not continue to tolerate the refusals.

"Pretty soon, they'll have to be forced to leave," said Dennis Gutierrez, spokesman for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

"We don't want to spend our time fighting the fire and removing people from harm's way at the same time. That's a waste of our resources," he said.

On Theodore Street, Inez Cisneros, 60, watched a bright orange glow beyond a ridge behind her home. "They told us we had 10 minutes to get out, so my home is still all furnished," she said. "If it comes over that ridge, we're going to run."

More than 500 firefighters battled the blaze, while four air tankers and six helicopters dumped water and fire retardant on the flames before they were grounded by darkness.

The Riverside County blaze wasn't the only one burning in Southern California on the second day of Santa Ana winds this week -- weather that prompted red-flag warnings of high fire danger throughout the region.

In San Diego County, firefighters battled a wildfire that had jumped the border from Mexico. In all, the fire burned more than 1,000 acres, but scorched only 100 acres in San Diego County, authorities said. The fire in the Tecate Peak area was not threatening any structures, California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection spokeswoman Audrey Hagen told Associated Press.

Another fire broke out about 5 a.m. Wednesday in the Barrett Junction area of eastern San Diego County and burned 50 acres before it was contained about 11 a.m., Hagen said. The cause of both fires was under investigation.

Firefighters continued to put out hotspots from the 24,175-acre Topanga fire that was 100% contained Tuesday, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Ron Haralson said.

"We will be there another day or so with mop-up operations," he said. "There is no anticipation of it jumping that line."

The Topanga fire started Sept. 28 and destroyed three homes, but a well-coordinated response helped firefighters save thousands of houses.

In San Bernardino County, the Thurman fire, which burned more than 900 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest, was 100% contained Wednesday, the San Bernardino National Forest Fire Information Center said.


Times staff writer Monte Morin and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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