Highland Fire at Nearly 2,500 Acres; Containment Rises to 25%

Retardant dropped
A tanker drops retardant on the Highland Fire near Aguanga. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Fire crews in Riverside County are working Thursday to keep the Highland Fire, at nearly 2,500 acres and 25% contained, within its perimeter.

The Highland Fire erupted about 12:40 p.m. Monday in the area of Highlands and Aguanga Ranchos roads, near the junction of Highways 79 and 371, and burned 2,487 acres according to reports released Thursday. A Cal Fire helicopter crew conducted reconnaissance late Wednesday afternoon.

Officials at the scene said air tankers would not be required for operations Thursday. Two helicopters were requested to return in the morning for mop-up work along the fire lines.

A public safety power shutoff – during which transmission lines are de-energized — requested by fire personnel during the first hours of the fire along Highway 79 ended at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to officials.

Around noon, all Cal Fire air tankers and the “air attack” operations coordinator departed the area, with flames confined within the acreage where tankers had dropped fire retardant since Monday. One helicopter made targeted drops Wednesday afternoon, according to reports from the scene.

Winds were not a factor.

According to the fire department, firefighters were trying to stamp out flames in “extremely steep and rugged terrain.”

Thirteen structures, including three homes, were either damaged or destroyed by the fire. One firefighter injury was reported, but no details were available. More than 2,300 structures are threatened.

GoFundMe accounts were established for those who suffered property losses. They are at the following links:

Roughly 4,000 residents were under evacuation orders or warnings. A care and reception center was established for evacuees at Great Oak High School in Temecula. Residents with large and small pets were invited to drop them at the San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus for safekeeping.

Evacuation orders remained in place for the following:

  • south of Sage Road, north of Cottonwood Creek, between Becker Lane and Boulder Vista
  • south of Highway 371, west of Sorenson Road and north of San Diego County Line Road
  • north of David Street, south of Pueblo Road, between Vail Lake Resort and Shirley Way, and
  • south of Highway 79, north of the San Diego County line, between Forest Route 8S07 and Crosley Truck Trail.

Evacuation warnings were in place for the following:

  • west of the Cahuilla Tribal Reservation boundary and north of County Line Road, and
  • north of Cleveland National Forest, south of Watts Road and Avenida Bravura, between De Portola Road and Round Top Canyon Road.

About 1,000 firefighters were working to shore up containment lines.

Road closures remained in effect Wednesday on Highway 79 from Vail Lake to the San Diego County line; Sage Road from Highway 79 to Wilson Valley Road; Wilson Valley Road, from Sage Road to Highway 371; and Highway 371, from Highway 79 to Wilson Valley Road.

The blaze started near a residence, but the exact cause was under investigation.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District on Tuesday issued a wildfire smoke advisory due to the blaze, nothing that winds have been pushing the smoke toward Temecula and San Clemente. The air quality agency urged residents in affected areas to limit their exposure by staying indoors with windows and doors closed, running air conditions or air purifiers and avoiding vigorous outdoor physical activity.

Residents were also told to avoid using swamp coolers or whole house fans that bring in outside air.

– City News Service

Updated 7:45 p.m. Nov. 2, 2023