Firefighters Gain Ground on Fire Near Beaumont

A two-car wreck triggered the wildfire and prompted the closure of Highway 79

Firefighters were working Thursday to increase the containment of a large brush fire that has been burning since Monday, threatening rural communities throughout the San Gorgonio Pass near Banning.

The Manzanita Fire was 77 percent contained Wednesday night after having scorched more than 6,300 acres, the Riverside County Fire Department reported.

The fire, sparked by a traffic crash south of Beaumont, was reported shortly after 3 p.m. Monday in the area of state Route 79 and Dump Road, near the Lamb Canyon landfill. An agency spokeswoman said a solo vehicle crash triggered the wildfire. Two people suffered unspecified injuries in the crash.

Communities in the path of the fire included Mount Edna, Poppet Flats, Silent Valley, Twin Pines and other lightly populated areas between Highland Home Road and state Route 243 in the San Gorgonio Pass near Banning. Evacuation warnings issued for those locations were lifted Wednesday morning but motorists were advised to proceed with caution while using state Route 243 and 79 and to be prepared to yield to fire personnel.

According to Cal Fire, about 1,300 personnel were deployed on the fire lines, aided by multiple air tankers and water-dropping helicopters, water tenders and bulldozers. Firefighters responded from the county, along with Beaumont, Corona, Hemet, Idyllwild, Murrieta, Riverside and San Bernardino County.

Firefighters working to contain the blaze battled triple digit temperatures Wednesday, along with wind gusts and low humidity -- conditions that prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning in force in the San Gorgonio Pass until 1 a.m. Wednesday.

The blaze also prompted a smoke advisory from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, warning that air quality could reach unhealthy levels in areas directly affected by smoke, including most of the San Gorgonio Pass, San Jacinto and the Coachella Valley, which was extended to Thursday morning.

Riverside County public health officials urged residents in affected areas to stay indoors with their windows closed and air conditioning on

CAL FIRE reported more than 2,135 fires in California from Jan. 1 through Sunday. Those fires scorched more than 20,200 acres. During that same period last year, CAL FIRE reported 1,750 fires that burned 18,354 acres.

A report released June 1 provided a wildfire outlook for the hot, dry summer months in California. The National Interagency Fire Center report said wildfire risk will be high in inland Southern California in July and in parts of Northern California during August and September. The report noted what could be a delayed start to the wildfire season in some locations.

The state is coming off one of its wettest winters in years, which left hillsides covered in grass and other vegetation. That grass will dry out this summer and turn into tinder, providing fuel for rapidly spreading fires often pushed by strong winds.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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