Banning Brusher Believed Started By Someone Setting Fire To Stolen Vehicle

City News Service

Authorities Friday were looking for a person suspected of starting a 160-acre brush fire on the south side of Banning that forced road closures, injured a firefighter and at one point, threatened to spread into the San Bernardino National Forest.

The fire was reported at 2:20 p.m. Wednesday in a field near a campground and school in Banning in the 100 block of Westward Avenue, near San Gorgonio Avenue, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

Fire officials believe the fire was started by someone who set fire to a stolen vehicle, causing the surrounding dry grasses to ignite. The exact location of the vehicle was not specified.

On Thursday, the fire was 60% contained and had been recalculated to 160 acres, fire officials reported. Friday morning, Cal Fire updated the containment to 95%. Firefighter crews were still on the scene.

One firefighter suffered minor burns and was taken to a hospital.

Crews from Riverside County and the Calimesa Fire Department responded to the fire, encountering flames moving at a moderate rate toward the KOA Campground, just west of Banning High School. The school and campground were promptly evacuated.

An evacuation warning was issued for residents in the area between state Route 243 on the south and Charles Street on the north, between South Hathaway Street and San Gorgonio Avenue, but the warning was lifted later Wednesday evening when fire officials proclaimed that the forward spread of the fire had been halted.

The fire prompted the Banning Police Department to close Westward Avenue between 12th Street and San Gorgonio. State Route 243 was closed from Smith Creek to Poppet Flats, Caltrans announced.

Cal Fire water-dropping helicopters were originally making runs on the fire, but most air tankers were diverted to a much larger wildfire burning to the northwest, around Lytle Creek, in San Bernardino County.

Anyone with information on the person who set the vehicle on fire was urged to call 800-633-2836.

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