Freeway Complex Fire: 40 Percent Contained; 28,889 Acres

YORBA LINDA, Calif. -- Thousands of residents were allowed to head back home after the final evaucation orders from the the so-called "Freeway Complex" fire were lifted Monday afternoon. 

The fire began Saturday morning in Riverside County before winds blew flames into Orange, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties.  Nearly 30,000 acres were burned, with 40-percent of it contained, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

The Freeway Complex Fire, which started Saturday morning near Corona in Riverside County, has damaged or destroyed 259 residences.

At a meeting Tuesday night for fire victims the Corona city fire chief told those attending it was exhaust from a passing car that apparently ignited the weekend fire.

Firefighters got a break Sunday afternoon when Santa Ana winds died down, and OCFA officials said firefighters had made substantial progress in their effort to encircle the blaze.

By early afternoon Monday, some 3,700 state, county and city firefighters were battling the fire. Roughly 370 personnel from the Riverside County Fire Department were on the fire lines, said county fire department spokeswoman Jody Hagemann.

Some of the most intense battles against the blaze were occurring in the Diamond Bar area, where the four counties share borders.

At the height of the fire, around 26,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders, including 12,600 people in Anaheim and 8,000-10,000 people in Yorba Linda, the OCFA reported.

On Sunday afternoon, all evacuees in Anaheim and Yorba Linda were allowed to return home. Evacuation orders for Diamond Bar residents were lifted Monday afternoon.

Six firefighters were injured fighting the blaze, according to the OCFA. No deaths have been reported.

About 90 homes were lost in Yorba Linda, including at least 15 multimillion-dollar homes in a Yorba Linda hilltop community bordering Chino Hills State Park. Homes went up in flames along Blue Ridge Drive, Merryweather Circle, Camino de Bryant and Big Horn Mountain Way.

"We just started losing homes. We didn't have enough units," OCFA Safety Officer Mickey Hansen said over the weekend. "There were just so many fires. There wasn't enough (resources) to go around."

At least 10 homes and 10 apartment buildings were lost in Anaheim Hills Saturday, OCFA reported. Stores at a shopping center also burned.

Another victim of the fire was Sunday's inaugural Pasadena Marathon, which also was canceled because of smoke and ash in the air.

In Orange and San Bernardino counties, evacuations occurred in the Chino Hills area at Carbon Canyon, Sleepy Hollow, Carriage Hills, Oak Tree Downs, Vellano, the Ridge Gate area south of Pine and west of Butterfly Ranch Road, Nearwoodview Road from Pipeline to Peyton, Valle Vista to the north, Canyon Rim at Soquel Canyon, and Western Hills Estates Mobile Home Park, as well as in Brea at Olinda Village, and Hollydale Mobile Home Park at Carbon Canyon to the county line.

All nine public schools in Brea were closed Monday, including day care and preschool programs, according to the school district.

All schools were closed Monday in the Brea-Olinda Unified, Placentia/Yorba Linda Unified, Chino Valley and Walnut Valley Unified school districts.

Also closed were St. Angela Merici Catholic School and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Brea; Vineyard Christian Preschool & Elementary in Anaheim; and Calvary Christian School in Yorba Linda.

Brea Canyon Alternative High School, which sustained significant damage in this weekend's Brea fire, is expected to remain closed for up to three months, city of Brea spokeswoman Cindie Ryan told the Orange County Register. Parents and students can get updated information at the district's Web Page, or by calling 714-990-7800.

In Riverside County, as many as 600 homes were evacuated Saturday morning in Corona, within the Green River community, north of the Riverside (91) Freeway. Seventeen homes were damaged or destroyed in the Dean Homes neighborhood before the blaze jumped three miles down the Santa Ana River Canyon, touching down in Anaheim Hills south of the river, and Yorba Linda north of it.

The fire eventually merged with a fire that broke out near Brea. It was renamed the Freeway Complex Fire, then the Triangle Fire.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, said Riverside County Fire Department spokeswoman Kathleen Henderson. KCAL9, citing anonymous sources, reported that sparks from a vehicle on the Riverside (91) Freeway may have touched off a small fire in a tree next to the roadway, and fierce winds quickly spread the flames.

All freeways were open Monday and all Metrolink lines were operating on regular schedules. Metrolink officials said all tracks and signals were inspected and found to be safe, but they warned commuters to be patient because there could be delays due to freight train congestion and fire-related power outages.

The Air Quality Management District warned Monday that air quality will be "unhealthy for sensitive groups" because of smoke.

People with respiratory difficulties were urged to avoid outdoor activity and keep windows and doors shut, particularly in areas where the smoke is likely to be most noticeable, including Corona, Chino Hills, Norco, Pomona, the San Fernando Valley and large portions of Orange County, the AQMD said.

The governor declared a state of emergency Monday in San Bernardino County, following declarations Saturday night for Orange and Riverside counties.

He proclaimed a state of emergency in Los Angeles County because of the Sayre Fire near Sylmar, and before that, Santa Barbara County because of the Tea Fire in Montecito that broke out Thursday evening.

In Los Angeles County, evacuations occurred in the Diamond Bar areas of High Bluff, Fairwind, Running Branch, Hawkwood, Chirping Sparrow and Falcon Ridge, in addition to "The Country" on Diamond Bar Boulevard, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

An evacuation center was set up in Diamond Bar High School at 21400 Pathfinder Road.

Orange County Fire Assistance

A Local Assistance Center for victims of the wildfire in Orange County has been established at East Anaheim Gymnasium, 8165 E. Santa Ana Canyon Road, according to the governor's office.

The center will provide state and local services for people who have been displaced by the wildfire or have lost homes or property.

Representatives from the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and various state, local and community organizations will be at the center to provide information on various services.

The center will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. More information is available by calling (714) 764-3100. (The phone number will be activated starting Tuesday 7 a.m.).

Chronology of Destruction

The series of fires that have swept into four counties near the Santa Ana River Canyon have jumped, split and merged through multiple jurisdictions, firefighters said Sunday. Here's a chronology of events through mid-day Sunday.

9 a.m., Saturday: The fire was first reported in bed of the Santa Ana River near Prado Dam, a densely-vegetated flood control basin north of the suburban subdivisions of Corona. Some 16 homes were lost there in the first hours of that blaze.

3 p.m., Saturday: The fire jumped over three miles of unburned terrain, and landed both north and south of the Santa Ana River and the Riverside (91) Freeway in Anaheim. There, spot fires erupted both to the northwest in Yorba Linda, and southwest in Anaheim Hills.

Ninety-two houses, most of them widely-dispersed, were lost on the tree-covered town of Yorba Linda. But those fires were nearly all spot-fires, and were not the product of a broad flank of fire as traditionally envisioned by persons thinking of brush fires.

In Anaheim Hills, on the south side of the canyon, an apartment complex ignited, burning as many as 50 units in 10 large buildings. Fire officials have been so hard-pressed putting out fires that early estimates of 250 lost apartment units in the Cascade apartments have not been confirmed, updated or corrected.

8 p.m., Saturday: The fire had reconstituted itself northeast of Yorba Linda. Winds blew it northeast into the Whittier Hills, and flanks began burning north towards the Chino Hills.

Early Sunday: The main section of the fire joined up with a smaller fire that broke out Saturday in the hills north of Brea. Together, a front of fire burned north through Carbon Canyon and Sleepy Hollow, two small rural enclaves. Crossing into Los Angeles County, flanks of fire approached Diamond Bar from the south, through Tonner Canyon east of the Orange (57) Freeway.

9 a.m., Sunday: Another spot fire started in Brea Canyon, on the west side of the 57, prompting its closure.

Sunday evening: Containment reaches 19 percent after having scorched 23,720 acres. New evacuations are ordered.

Monday: Multiple schools are closed. Containment reaches 40 percent. Total acreage increases to 28,889 acres.

Resources, Evacuation Information

Anaheim fire officials set up a fire information center for residents at Katella High School, 2200 E. Wagner. Residents may also call for specific fire information to 714-765-4333.

The Tommy Lasorda Field House and the Travis Ranch Activity Center in Yorba Linda, the Yorba Linda Community Center, the Brea Community Center and Valencia High in Placentia were opened as evacuation centers. In Anaheim, evacuation centers were opened at Anaheim, Katella and Loara high schools. Corona High School was also being used to house evacuees.

More School Closures

School closures in effect for Monday due to the Corona Fire are as follows:

  • Brea Public Schools
  • Placentia/Yorba Linda Unified School District
  • Brea-Olinda Friends Christian School
  • Chino Hills
  • Walnut Valley Unified School District, including Diamond Bar High School
  • Southland Christian Schools

All are expected to reopen Tuesday.

Also, schools in Pomona, Fullerton and Chino Hills districts will be open Monday as long as conditions permit, KCAL9 reported. Students will be kept indoors in Pomona schools, and outdoor recreation classes will be canceled throughout the Chino Hills area.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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