A fire started by lightning in a rugged, rural area east of Temecula was 90 percent contained Thursday night, up from about 60 percent containment earlier in the day.
The Buck fire left a resident hospitalized with serious burns and destroyed four structures. About 400 firefighters Wednesday continued to battle the brush fire that had prompted mandatory evacuations, which were lifted at 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Riverside County Fire Department announced.
The blaze, previously estimated at 3,000 acres, was determined to be 2,681 acres by more accurate mapping.
A DC-10, a former commercial jet, was called in to drop flame retardant. It costs $19,000 per hour, but it's an effective tool for battling this kind of blaze, Riverside County Fire Department Chief John Hawkins said.
"It is a tough call to make, but it's an important call to make when life or property are at risk," Hawkins said.
One resident was airlifted to a hospital after suffering serious burns and three firefighters were injured during Tuesday's Buck fire near the communities of Sage and Aguanga.
The firefighters were hospitalized with minor injuries. A second resident also suffered minor injuries.
Gregory Good, one of the victims who lost his home and was burned by the flames, described how quickly the fire forced him to evacuate.
"The winds changed direction and it turned into a wall of fire," said Good, who was forced to abandon all of his belongings. "It consumed everything. I'm singed. I walked through a wall of fire"
Good also left behind his dogs -- two Scottish Deerhounds. He hopes they found cover and he planned to be out looking for them Thursday.
Containment was of the fire was at 15 percent Wednesday afternoon, but it had not gained any acreage during the day. Crews had set backfires designed to eliminate fuel for the fire and stop its spread.
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"The fire burned aggressively all afternoon," said Glenn Barley, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, early Wednesday. "We hit it hard from the air and the ground. They've been working all night and made some progress.
"We have a long day ahead of us with the weather and the heat coming up."
The fire started at about 1:40 p.m. Tuesday and prompted mandatory evacuations for residents north of Sage Road, south of Stanley Road, east of Benton Road and west of Reed Valley Road, according to fire officials. About 210 firefighters responded to the blaze.
The area is about 20 miles east of Temecula and about 15 miles south of Hemet.
The blaze -- dubbed the "Buck Fire" -- grew from 25 acres at 1:40 p.m., to 50 acres by 2:30 p.m., to 125 acres by 3:30 p.m., to 600 acres by 5:45 p.m., to 1,800 acres by 6:05 p.m., to 3,000 acres by 10:30 p.m.
More than 50 fire engines, seven helicopters, 11 air tankers and four bulldozers were assisting in the fight.
Officials Tuesday ordered 47 homes evacuated, and the occupants of 32 complied, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. Residents returning to the evacuated area need to show identification to gain access to the area, the department said.
An evacuation center, staffed by American Red Cross representatives, had been set up at 30875 Rancho Vista Road in Temecula. It was slated to be shut down after 6 p.m. Wednesday.
The Ramona Animal Shelter at 690 Humane Way in San Jacinto was being used as an evacuation depot for dogs, cats and other small pets. Larger animals, including horses, were being accepted at Helton Hay and Feed at 26852 Bradley Road in Menifee.
Vallecito Lightning Complex Fires
Firefighters were battling more brush fires Wednesday afternoon about 30 miles southeast of the Buck fire. Hundreds of East County residences were under mandatory evacuation orders .
The fires -- collectively known as the Vallecito Lightning Complex -- scorched roughly 9,300 acres as of 7 a.m., according to the fire officials. The first to begin spreading through the remote northeastern reaches of San Diego County was the Vallecito Fire, which charred roughly 520 acres since about 8 p.m. Sunday and was 100 percent contained as of Tuesday night, Cal Fire reported.
The three other blazes -- the Wilson, Stewart and Cooper fires -- erupted Monday afternoon northeast of Julian, near Scissors Crossing. Cal Fire reported that the Wilson Fire had burned 5,000 acres and was 10 percent contained as of late Wednesday morning; the Stewart Fire blackened 3,800 acres, with zero percent containment; and the Cooper Fire scorched only three acres and was 100 percent contained.
The fifth one broke out Tuesday and charred three acres in the Wynola area. It was 100 percent contained as of Tuesday night, Cal Fire reported.
Authorities said the Wilson and Stewart fires could merge Wednesday.