Highland Fire Slows Overnight in Aguanga, But More Winds Anticipated

Highland Fire
Firefighters protect a utility pole as they battle the Highland Fire, a wind-driven wildfire near Aguanga. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A wildfire that rapidly spread over nearly 2,500 in the Aguanga area slowed its spread overnight and fire crews were able to increase containment of the blaze, but fire officials Wednesday were preparing for continued wind gusts that could again push the flames.

The blaze was reported about 12:40 p.m. Monday in the area of Highlands and Aguanga Ranchos roads, near the junction of Highways 79 and 371, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, officials at the scene estimated the fire at 2,487 acres and 15% contained. The fire did not increase in size overnight, fire officials said, estimating full containment of the blaze to be achieved by Nov. 8.

“The fire behavior overnight was minimal, with some minor creeping and smoldering observed,” according to a Wednesday morning statement from the Riverside County Fire Department. “Easterly winds are forecast to continue in the area through Thursday evening, which have the potential to push the fire in a west/southwest direction. Firefighters will continue constructing handline around the perimeter.”

Fire officials said crews were working in “extremely steep and rugged terrain,” and dry conditions could lead to more “erratic fire behavior.”

As of Wednesday morning, seven structures had been destroyed by the flames, and six others were injured. One firefighter injury was reported, but no details were immediately available.

Thousands of homes remained 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 Jacino Valley Animal Campus for safekeeping.

Evacuation orders were in place:

— south of Sage Road/Golden Eagle Drive and north of Cottonwood Creek between Becker Lane and Boulder Vista;

— south of Highway 371, west of Sorenson Road and north of San Diego County Road;

— north of David Street and south of Pueblo Road/Exa Ely Road between Vail Lake Resort and Shirley Way; and

— south of Highway 79 and north of the San Diego County line between Forest Route 8S07 and west of Crosley Truck Trail.

Evacuation warnings were in place:

— west of the Cahuilla Tribal Reservation boundary and north of County Line Road; and

— north of Cleveland National Forest, south of Watts Road/Esplendida Way/Avenida Bravura, between Pauba Road/De Portola Road and Round Top Canyon Road.

As of Wednesday morning, 10 water-dropping helicopters were assigned to the firefighting effort, as were more than 1,200 firefighters, including 25 hand crews and 11 bulldozers that worked to extend 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.

–City News Service