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6,400-Acre Fire Is 70% Contained

Moreno Valley residents who had fled return home, and the 60 Freeway reopens. The causes of multiple blazes are investigated.

October 07, 2005|Susannah Rosenblatt and Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writers

Firefighters on Thursday hemmed in a Riverside County blaze that had charred 6,400 acres of thick brush and threatened dozens of homes, allowing evacuated residents to return home and the 60 Freeway to reopen.

The Woodhouse fire just east of Moreno Valley was 70% contained Thursday night, after 700 firefighters spent the day extinguishing embers, fence posts and stumps that they feared would reignite the wildfire if winds kicked up.

Winds, at 10 to 12 mph Thursday, were less fierce than expected, and firefighters let the blaze flame out in steep canyons. Two helicopters doused flare-ups with water.

If the winds remain light, fire officials said, they could contain the blaze by 6 p.m. Saturday.

"When there's no fuel, the fire will eventually burn itself out," said spokesman Rick Griggs of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Riverside County Fire Department.

The fire was one of several in Southern California. A fire on the U.S.-Mexico border, caused by a structure fire in Mexico that jumped the border, had singed 3,100 acres and prompted evacuations in a rural area east of San Diego.

In Corona, a small, rapidly spreading grass fire that began at about 4:45 p.m. Thursday threatened a construction site and had spread near a densely populated area called Home Gardens. Two air tankers knocked down the flames, and officials said they expected to contain the Lincoln fire by late Thursday. The cause is under investigation.

Small blazes also sparked in the San Bernardino County towns of Grand Terrace, Devore, Hesperia, Muscoy and Rialto, where a three-alarm fire burned cardboard and plastic at a recycling scrap yard. Causes of these fires are also under investigation.

The Woodhouse fire began about 3 p.m. Wednesday in San Timoteo Canyon, and investigators were still trying to determine its cause.

Flames raced through an area known as the Badlands and inched close to the 60 Freeway, prompting authorities to close a section of it and evacuate up to 100 homes. No structures have burned; two firefighters reported minor injuries.

The blaze is just west of where a fire last week scorched more than 1,100 acres and incinerated 80,600 chickens at MCM Poultry egg farm.

Wednesday night, the fire marched toward neighborhoods in northeast Moreno Valley, creeping toward dozens of backyards, where fire crews were waiting to pounce. Some yards were singed, but no homes were damaged.

"When you live this close to Mother Nature, every so often you get to meet Mother Nature," said Margaret Park, 42, who evacuated Wednesday night.

She and her partner, who is pregnant, packed their two dogs, two cats, computer and credit card statements and stayed with friends in Riverside. They returned Thursday morning and saw that the fire had stopped about 150 feet from their home on Orange Grove Circle.

"It got a lot closer than we thought it would," said Park, who works for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Chessie Everett, a UC Riverside history professor, packed her flute, library books and a manuscript written by her father but spent Wednesday night at her home on Highland Boulevard.

She listened to the wind pound her windows and watched the sky redden. "It looked really angry," she said.

Throughout the night, Everett watched the sky turn from red to a "quieter shade of orange." If "something could have landed on my roof, that would have been it," she said.

Raul Bautista, 14, and his family stood outside Wednesday night as firetrucks surrounded their Theodore Street home and one firefighter climbed onto their roof.

When the smoke thickened, Raul used a gas mask and searched for his father, finding him at the edge of their property monitoring the flames, he said. Family members camped in a field across the street and were told about midnight that they could return home.

"Today when I went to school, there was a lot of ashes," the eighth-grader said Thursday. "If we breathe too hard, it might go into our lungs."

At Fisherman's Retreat RV park, several dozen residents waited out the blaze, watching crews fan out with chain saws, shovels and picks.

Sharon Mourton, 64, surveyed the blackened hillsides and brownish-white smoke that steamed from trees. The air smelled acrid. Mourton was cooking pancakes for neighbors as they watched fire coverage on television. Flames had crept within 100 yards of her weekend place Wednesday night.

As firetrucks rumbled by, she told her neighbors: "There goes some of our heroes."

*

Times staff writer Lance Pugmire and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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