Apple Fire in California spreads to more than 26,000 acres

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, a massive wildfire burning in two counties Riverside and San Bernardino in California charred more than 26,000 acres and was at 5% containment on Monday afternoon

The “Apple Fire,” broke out Friday afternoon and continues to burn three days later.

The Apple Fire had grown to 26,850 acres late Monday (more than 106 km) and continued to threaten homes. As about 2,300 firefighting personnel battled the blaze and dropped water and fire retardant from the air, only 7% of its perimeter was contained.

This image was taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Aug. 02, 2020, using infrared light. Using the infrared light channel on Aqua it is much easier to distinguish the edges of the fire which appear reddish-brown in the image | Credits: NASA

Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire Department investigators said Monday that a malfunctioning vehicle, according to CBS Los Angeles report, caused the Apple Fire.

Cal Fire officials said a diesel-fueled vehicle “emitting burning carbon from the exhaust system” had been identified as the source of the blaze. Authorities say they confirmed the cause following interviews with “multiple independent witnesses,” along with unspecified physical evidence.

Flames spread blazingly into the hillside and the communities of Cherry Valley, Banning and into the San Bernardino National Forest overnight.

“The fire burned north of us for quite some time and eventually it worked its way over here,” one resident told CBS Los Angeles.

“Flames burned east through very steep, rugged hillsides which are not accessible to firefighting vehicles,” fire officials said in an online update. Riverside County Cal Fire Chief Bill Weiser, briefing residents on Monday night conveyed the progress of battling the fire as “slow but steady”.

So far, one injury has been reported, a firefighter who suffered a flash burn when opening the fuel cap on his chainsaw. The fire had destroyed five structures as of Monday evening. 

Cal Fire placed engines in every neighbourhood. More than 1,300 firefighters stood guard, saving hundreds of homes this weekend. The air attack gave the Apple Fire a one-two punch, pushing itself farther into the San Bernardino National Forest and away from the communities below.

“The firefighters did a fabulous job keeping everything under control they were on it right away,” said Joanne Erbe, another resident.

“We’re so scared of the fire catching up to the houses because we’re right under the mountains,” said Carlos Gomez, a resident. “We are praying for the best and see how it goes.”

“It was just like a really small cloud, and I saw a really big cloud of smoke. It’s like a hundred times bigger than it was … and that’s what scared me. I got all jittery and I was afraid for my mom and my nephew,” said Luis Gomez, another resident.

“It’s a miracle no one else lost a home, because the fire burned five feet from the doors,” Lt. Al Campa of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.

Villegas said as many as 200 residents faced power outages on Monday due to the Apple Fire, but that number had been reduced to about 30 by the evening. The fire damaging power lines close to the burn area caused those outages, he said.

About 8,000 people have been evacuated since the fire broke out. At least one home burned down on Saturday.

“Folks not taking advantage of it over concerns about COVID-19, we have measures in place. We planned for this months ahead,” said Captain Fernando Herrera of Cal Fire.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department issued a warning to Pioneertown residents that they may need to evacuate, and several said on Monday that the advisory was justified. Authorities reiterated Monday evening that Pioneertown might need to evacuate if westerly winds pick up. The fire was a reminisce of Sawtooth Complex Fire, which burned 70,000 acres and nearly destroyed Pioneertown in July 2006.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state got a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grant to help pay for the ongoing firefighting efforts.

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