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Wildfire Closes Interstate 15 for Hours

The blaze was moving away from Temecula and had damaged no homes. Holiday weekend traffic was badly snarled.

July 01, 2006|Susannah Rosenblatt and Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writers

A wildfire that has charred 180 acres near Temecula jumped Interstate 15 Friday afternoon and could threaten the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve but not homes, Riverside County fire officials said.

The fire, which began about 1:30 p.m., was moving west, away from Temecula, but erratic winds also blew it across Interstate 15 from the west to the east side, where firefighters extinguished most embers.

The California Highway Patrol closed all lanes of Interstate 15 in both directions from Rainbow Valley Boulevard to lower California 79 for several hours and diverted traffic to local roads, a CHP spokesman said.

Friday evening, north- and southbound lanes were slowly reopening, said Officer Ron Thatcher with the CHP in Temecula.

Congestion was worse than usual as many people were already on jammed roads for the Fourth of July weekend, he said.

Temperatures were in the 90s Friday, with low humidity and 10- to 20-mph winds.

"We've got the perfect conditions for fire," said Cheri Patterson, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in Riverside County.

Two firefighters were receiving treatment for heat-related injuries, Patterson said.

Officials had not called for mandatory evacuations in the Riverside County city of 94,000, but some residents left anyway, as did more than 200 guests and employees at the Temecula Creek Inn golf resort, who were briefly evacuated.

About 150 firefighters were battling the blaze, which by early Friday evening was 25% contained, said fire Capt. Julie Hutchinson. Residents as far away as Aguanga could see the smoke, Patterson said.

Authorities near the San Diego County line were investigating the cause of the fire, which began near the Border Patrol checkpoint along Interstate 15.

A brush fire near Pomona scorched 18 acres early Friday afternoon just north of Interstate 10, said Los Angeles County Fire Department officials.

The blaze, which initially threatened many homes, was contained by about 120 firefighters in under 90 minutes, said supervising fire dispatcher Al Jackson.

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