Firefighters were making progress Sunday night on getting a handle on a raging brush fire that charred more than 1,000 acres in Riverside County and sent heavy smoke into the sky, fire officials said.
Evacuation orders were lifted earlier in the day as hundreds of firefighters battled the blaze that at one point threatened 200 homes near the Prado Dam area of Chino, fire officials said.
Fire officials said the fire had been sparked by an unattended cooking fire. The flames were first reported about 6:15 p.m. in a forested basin near where the 91 and 71 freeways meet, the Riverside County Fire Department said. A plume of smoke was visibile for at least 20 miles.
Dense smoke, ash and the smell of soot blanketed Corona resident Mark Makram's neighborhood.
"I've never seen anything like this before," hesaid. "Ashes all over the houses, on the cars. It's ridiculous."
As of Sunday night, the fire had charred 1,020 acres and was 35 percent contained, fire officials said. Homes in the area were protected by a containment line firefighters set up, according to Capt. Mike Mohler of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
While Mohler had expected the fire to consumer more land, he predicted in the early morning that containment would soon rise as well as more firefighting resources became available -- hundreds of firefighters were fighting the blaze overnight.
"Crews really had a successful overnight with the humidity and the dissipation of the wind," Mohler said.
Cal Fire officials initially reported that the blaze was threatening 300 structures, but later issued a correction, saying 200 homes were under threat. They included residences in Norco, Corona and areas of unincorporated Riverside County.
Images showed large plumes of smoke rising from the flames as residents loaded vehicles with their belongings.
Mohler said firefighters on the ground were hampered by difficult access to the raging blaze.
"The fire is fueled by thick brush in a riverbed that hasn't burnt in years," Mohler said. "The fire is creating its own weather, so firefighters are having difficulty getting in there."
He said the flames were about a half-mile north of a residential area along the border of the cities of Norco and Corona.
"This is what we're seeing because of the drought and the critical fuel conditions," Mohler said.
Residents of Bluff, Stagecoach and Homestead roads had been under mandatory evacuation.
Many people in the area own horses, Mohler said, and some horses were taken to Norco's Ingalls Equestrian Event Center.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for the area. Winds were expected to push the smoke toward the central San Bernardino Mountains, air quality officials said.
About 800 firefighters from multiple fire agencies were battling the blaze. Aerial support was called in to fight the flames overnight, Mohler said.
The Red Cross opened an evacuation center for residents at Riley's Gym at 3900 Acacia Ave. in Norco. An evacuation center for horses was set up at Ingalls Park at 100 6th St. in Norco.
NBC4's Kate Larsen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.