Some evacuations lifted as 42-square-mile Apple Fire burns San Bernardino Mountains for 5th day

Some evacuations were lifted Tuesday in the massive Apple Fire burning in the San Bernardino Mountains, fire officials announced.

As of 3:30 p.m., evacuation orders were lifted in Riverside County, includes areas east of Oak Glen Road, west of Potrero Road and north of Wilson Street, according to Cal Fire.

In San Bernardino County, evacuation orders remained in effect, including residents east of Oak Glen Road, Potato Canyon and Pine Bench north of the Riverside-San Bernardino county line.

Evacuation warnings also remained in place. In Riverside County, a warning was in place east of Potrero Road, north of Morongo Road and west of Whitewater Canyon. In San Bernardino County, Forest Falls, Rimrock and Pioneertown were told to be on alert.

The San Gorgonio Wilderness remained closed Tuesday.

The wildfire forced thousands of people from their homes after it was sparked by a malfunctioning diesel vehicle, fire officials said Monday.

The vehicle spewed burning carbon from its exhaust system, igniting several fires Friday on Oak Glen Road in Cherry Valley, and authorities were asking anyone who may have seen such a vehicle at the time to contact investigators, according to a statement from Cal Fire.

The blaze in Riverside County, among several wildfires across California, had consumed 26,850 acres — or nearly 42 square miles — of dry brush and chaparral since it broke out Friday evening, fire officials said.

As of Tuesday morning, it was 15% contained. The fire along with coronavirus precautions made for added stress at an evacuation center, said John Medina, an American Red Cross spokesman.

Volunteers used to “close contact” with evacuees have had to adjust their approach during a time of social distancing, Medina said.

“I mean, that’s part of the recovery of a disaster, is that you have to show warmth and love and caring. And that’s hard when you’re standing 6 feet away. So that’s the biggest challenge,” Medina told KESQ-TV.

Bill Boehm helped his mother evacuate her home with her three horses and said the pandemic hasn’t stopped people from coming together to assist each other.

“Everyone seemed to be wearing masks and such, so that type of precaution was still going on,” Boehm told the news station.

The blaze began as two adjacent fires in a rural area near the city of Beaumont, about 85 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

Flames raced along brushy ridge tops and came close to houses while firefighters attacked from the ground and air. By nightfall, the flames were burning into the San Gorgonio Wilderness, where the brush was becoming sparse and limited the fire’s intensity, according to Zach Behrens, a spokesman for the San Bernardino National Forest.

Five buildings had been destroyed, including at least one home, authorities said. One firefighter was treated for an injury and returned to work.

In Northern California, evacuations were ordered after a wildfire that sparked Sunday afternoon spread quickly and burned near homes near the East Park Reservoir in Colusa County. Complicating firefighters’ efforts were temperatures in the area north of Sacramento climbed to 98 degrees by Monday afternoon. The fire was 40% contained.

On California’s central coast, a fire in San Luis Obispo County was 60% contained Monday after burning more than 2 square miles of brush east of the community of Santa Margarita. Two structures were destroyed but officials said it was unclear whether they were homes.

In Riverside County, officials allowed flames from the Apple Fire to run up the side of Mount San Gorgonio, an 11,000-foot peak, because it wasn’t safe to let crews work in such steep, rugged terrain, said Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Evacuation orders and advisories were issued for about 2,500 homes in mountain, canyon and foothill neighborhoods. Campgrounds and hiking trails were closed in the San Gorgonio Wilderness area of the San Bernardino National Forest.

A smoke plume was visible for miles around and contributed to poor air quality.

Firefighters fought the blaze in scorching weather. The temperature hit 111 degrees on Monday in nearby Palm Spring.

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