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Apple fire grows to 4,125 acres, prompts more evacuations in Cherry Valley

An afternoon flare-up of the Apple fire in Cherry Valley on Saturday, Aug. 1, spread the acreage burned to 4,125 and prompted new evacuations as firefighters attacked the sweeping blaze on a blistering hot day.

The flare-up was moving northwest from Pine Bench Road, said Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department Capt. Fernando Herrera. The mushroom cloud of black, brown, grey and white smoke could be seen for miles.

RELATED: This map shows the location, evacuations for the Apple Fire in Cherry Valley 

Homes in the path of the flames were threatened but were not in imminent danger, he said at about 2 p.m.

The fire was burning intensely in drainages and canyons in the higher elevations and was being spread by ridgetop winds.

More retardant-dropping airplanes and water-dropping helicopters were ordered as a result.

Just after 2 p.m., evacuations were ordered in two areas:

– East of Oak Glen Road, west of Banning Canyon Road and along Pine Bench Road.

– North of Wilson Street, east of Sunset Avenue and west of Hathaway Street.

Then at about 5 p.m., the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department issued voluntary evacuation orders for the Oak Glen and Forest Falls vicinities.

About 2,600 homes totaling approximately 7,800 people were under evacuation orders, Cal Fire said at 5:15 p.m.

All earlier evacuations remained in place.

Herrera urged residents not to wait until the flames were near to evacuate. But the Banning Bench, which previously had been threatened, “looks pretty good right now,” Herrera said. “Last night was touch-and-go.”

The fire remained at 0% containment.

As the fire continued to push east, it entered the northern tip of the Morongo Reservation on Saturday. However, Morongo fire officials did not expect the fire to spread further into the reservation and it did not pose a threat to any structures there.

So far only one home has been confirmed destroyed. Firefighters were having difficulty assessing the damage from the flames because the charred ground was too hot to walk on, Herrera said. The air temperature, higher than 100 degrees, prompted fire crewsto frequently hydrate and take breaks.

“It’s hard to take a break, especially if you are making progress. But a (firefighter) needs to be able to say, ‘Hey, I need a break,’ ” Herrera said.

Cherry Valley is a community of rising elevations with twisting, narrow roads north of Banning near the San Bernardino County border.

Firefighters on Saturday morning were focusing their efforts on reinforcing fire breaks in the Banning Bench area, where the head of the fire burned in the canyon below.

 

 

  • Flames from the Cherry Valley Fire burn on the hillside behind a home on Camino del Norte road and north of Bogart County Park in Beaumont on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Smoke from the Cherry Valley Fire and Apple Fire fill the sky above in Beaumont on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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  • A firefighting helicopter flies over the flames on the way to make a date drop on the Apple fire and Cherry Valley fire east of Avenida Miravilla road and north of Bogart County Park in Beaumont on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A CAL Fire helicopter flies over the flames on the way to make a date drop on the Apple fire and Cherry Valley fire east of Avenida Miravilla road and north of Bogart County Park in Beaumont on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A firefighting helicopter make a water drop on the Apple fire and Cherry Valley fire east of Avenida Miravilla road and north of Bogart County Park in Beaumont on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • CAL Fire’s 747 Global Supertanker 944 prepares to make a retardent drop on the Apple Fire and Cherry Valley Fire east of Avenida Miravilla road and north of Bogart County Park in Beaumont on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A firefighting helicopter flies past the moon through think smoke on its way to make a water drop on the Apple fire and Cherry Valley fire east of Avenida Miravilla road and north of Bogart County Park in Beaumont on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A firefighting helicopter make a water drop on the Apple fire and Cherry Valley fire east of Avenida Miravilla road and north of Bogart County Park in Beaumont on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A CAL Fire helicopter flies over the flames on the way to make a date drop on the Apple fire and Cherry Valley fire east of Avenida Miravilla road and north of Bogart County Park in Beaumont on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A firefighting helicopter flies past the moon through think smoke on its way to make a water drop on the Apple fire and Cherry Valley fire east of Avenida Miravilla road and north of Bogart County Park in Beaumont on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

But the fire mostly was just smoking, Herrera said at the time.

“We don’t have any raging flames that you would expect right now,” he said about 8:30 a.m.

That changed, however, as the humidity decreased during the day.

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Some evacuees went to the American Red Cross evacuation center at Beaumont High, where the plume of smoke loomed in the background.

The threat of COVID-19 also loomed. Instead of setting up cots, volunteers provided hotel stays for evacuees with nowhere else to go, said John Medina, a Red Cross worker and former Corona fire chief.

Thirty-one evacuees stopped by Friday, and seven were put up in hotels. Nine had come by as of 1 p.m. Saturday and two were given hotel stays, Medina said.

The school gym was also being used as a cooling center.

Rick and Rose Stewart elected to stay at their home on Avenida Miravilla, a hilltop property with a panoramic view to the southwest that includes Lake Perris.

They built the home in 1997, Rick said Saturday, one year after he proposed to Rose on the vacant land.

So when the fire started, Rick, Rose and their son Jon decided to fight the flames themselves with a garden hose.  Rose, 65, drove away from the flames. Rick and Jon stood their ground.

“That was one of the stupidest things I could suggest doing,” Rick said. That’s because the flames that crackled in three places suddenly exploded into one inferno and raced 300 feet past their home in about 10 seconds.

The flames burned a portion of their boat but spared the house.

“That was like staring into the eyes of hell, and that is the reason I’ll never do it again,” said Rick, 67.

 

 

 

Sheriff’s deputies shut down Oak Glen Road between Cherry Valley Boulevard and Wildwood Canyon Road, and shortly before 6 p.m. Friday,  multiple streets came under mandatory evacuation orders, impacting an estimated 1,000 residents in 150 homes, officials said.

Evacuations were ordered for residents in the Banning Bench area and a road closure was in place along North Sunset Avenue at Wilson Street and North San Gorgonio Avenue at Summit Drive, according to the Banning Police Department.

Evacuation orders were extended at 11 p.m. to north of Cherry Valley Boulevard, between Beaumont and Highland Springs avenues, Cal Fire said.

At the request of the Fire Department, Southern California Edison turned off electricity along Oak Glen Road and on surrounding side streets to prevent additional fires from breaking out as burned power poles collapsed and dropped transmission lines.

The practice is known as a “public safety power shutoff.”

As the fires started about 5 p.m. on Friday, witnesses reportedly called 911 stating a man was seen walking along Apple Tree Lane, igniting three blazes. Arson investigators were dispatched to the area.

Herrera said he was unable to confirm that information Saturday. The investigation was ongoing, he said.

Firefighters from southern and central California fought the blaze.



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