Officials determine cause of massive Apple Fire in Southern California
The Apple Fire, burning in Cherry Valley, California, grew to more than 20,500 acres on Aug. 2, as firefighters tried to get the wildfire under control.
A wildfire that ignited on Friday in Southern California rapidly expanded to more than 20,000 acres over the weekend, forcing thousands to evacuate and creating difficulties for firefighters.
Known as the Apple Fire, the blaze has scorched 28,085 acres and is currently 30% contained. About 8,000 residents in San Bernardino and Riverside counties remain under evacuation orders as of Monday morning, The Associated Press reported.
After an investigation, CAL FIRE determined that the fire was sparked by a diesel-fueled vehicle emitted burning carbon from the exhaust system. Authorities are still working to locate the vehicle that started the fire and are asking local residents for any information that could help find the vehicle.
The fire began in Cherry Valley and was burning near the cities of Banning and Beaumont, located around 84 and 78 miles east of Los Angeles, respectively. The blaze was also burning in parts of San Bernardino National Forest and forced several trails and recreational areas in the San Gorgonio Wilderness to be closed.
Firefighters work against the Apple Fire near Banning, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said that the fire had destroyed at least 12 structures, including homes and outbuildings. The video had shown the blaze coming treacherously close to other houses as well. At least one injury has been reported.
Part of the fire is burning in steep, rugged hillsides, which is not accessible to firefighters, according to InciWeb. The area has also not been torched by any other fires yet this year, officials said. The fire is being driven largely in part thanks to a combination of “record low moisture content of the vegetation in the area combined with high temperatures and low relative humidity,” the official incident report said.
In a Monday evening update, fire officials said vegetation was becoming less abundant, which was helping to limit the fire's intensity.
According to The Press-Enterprise, Lisa Cox, a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson, said the terrain was too dangerous for firefighters. “We don’t want to put firefighters in a dangerous situation,” Cox said. “It’s burning in a straight line up a mountain,” she said.
Safety measures were also being implemented to reduce exposure to COVID-19 for firefighters and first responders on the fireline and in fire camp.
About 1,200 firefighting personnel are on hand combating the blaze. The containment efforts came amid sweltering conditions in the region. In the city of Riverside, temperatures hit 107 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday and remained in the 100s Saturday before dipping to 99 on Sunday.
“Sunday was the beginning of a cooling trend that will become more pronounced by midweek,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Heather Zehr said. “Temperatures will reach 98 Monday but then 95 Tuesday and only about 90 Wednesday. It will likely stay in the 80s on Thursday and Friday. That means temperatures will swing from about 10 degrees above normal late last week to almost 10 degrees below normal late this week,” she said.
Gusty winds will continue to hamper containment efforts for the fire, Zehr noted.
Massive plumes of smoke could be seen billowing above the mountainsides, and poor air quality was reported in the region. The smoke plume at one point reached up to 30,000 feet in the air, the National Weather Service in Los Angeles said.
Smoke from the fire drifted all the way into the Phoenix area. According to the NWS office in Phoenix, the smoke likely kept temperatures down about 2-3 degrees on Sunday, allowing Phoenix to top out at 109 F.
In addition to the Apple Fire, nearly 20 other large fires are currently burning across California, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Another smaller fire, known as the Post Fire, had burned about 40 acres and caused the shutdown of a stretch of Interstate 5 near the town of Gorman on Sunday.
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