Fairview Fire Kills Two People, Engulfs Structures in Hemet, Schools Closed

Ceci Partridge

(CNS) – A deadly wildfire that prompted evacuations south of Hemet grew to 7,091 acres Wednesday, reaching the boundaries of the San Bernardino National Forest, with containment at 5%, leading officials to broaden evacuation orders for public safety.

The Fairview Fire was reported at a little after 2 p.m. on Fairview Ave. and Bautista Road, and had burned 2,000 acres by 10 p.m., according to the Riverside County Fire Department. The figure grew to 2,700 acres by 11:15 p.m. At 7:50 p.m., the department announced that the fire resulted in two civilian fatalities and one civilian injury. Officials added that seven buildings were destroyed and several more were damaged.

Evacuations were ordered for an area south of Stetson, north of Cactus Valley Road, west of Fairview Avenue and east of State Street. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department was going door to door to enforce the evacuation order, Cal Fire Captain Richard Cordova said.

Cal Fire said the fire resulted in two civilian fatalities and one civilian burn injury. Officials added that seven buildings were destroyed and several more were damaged. Assessments would be made on Tuesday to determine a more accurate number.

An evacuation warning issued Monday for Bautista Canyon Road, south of Stetson and north of the Two Streams Fork trailhead, was converted to a mandatory evacuation Tuesday due to the proximity of flames to homes in the area.

The blaze was moving southeast and was on the perimeter of the San Bernardino National Forest by early Tuesday afternoon. Cal Fire and U.S. Forest Service personnel joined in unified command shortly before 3 p.m.

Along with county, state and federal firefighters, crews from multiple municipal agencies, including the Hemet Fire Department and Murrieta Fire & Rescue, were working the fire lines. Nearly 300 personnel had been deployed Tuesday.

At least four Cal Fire air tankers and two water-dropping helicopters were making runs on the brusher.

A temporary flight restriction was established directly over the fire, barring civilian aircraft from coming within five miles of it.

Winds were blowing about 15 mph, with gusts to 20 mph, according to the National Weather Service. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, the temperature was 105 degrees in the Hemet Valley.

Schools were closed in the Hemet Unified School District Tuesday.

An evacuation center was set up at Tahquitz High School at 4425 Titan Trail in Hemet. Riverside County officials said evacuees could also bring their small animals to the center, where personnel would assist with evacuated pets.

Caltrans reported that the following streets were closed to southbound traffic at Stetson Street in the east Hemet area: Stanford, Dartmouth, Cornell, Aurora Drive, Columbia, Yale, Girard, San Jacinto, Santa Fe, Meridian, Hemet, Lake and Fairview Avenue.

Cordova said the fire was already well underway when firefighters first arrived on the scene amid strong east winds. Temperatures were over 100 degrees in the fire area with relative humidity of 13% and east winds gusting at 15 to 25 mph at the time of ignition, according to the National Weather Service.

Cal Fire reported at 6:40 p.m. that flames were approaching about 10 houses in the area of Newport Road east of State Street, where additional resources were requested.

Smoke from the fire could be seen as far as the Orange County coast.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced early Tuesday that California has secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help ensure the availability of vital resources to suppress the Fairview Fire. The grant will enable local, state and tribal agencies responding to the fire to apply for 75% reimbursement of their eligible fire suppression costs.

Copyright 2022, City News Service, Inc.

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