Tropical Rain Helps Firefighters Battle Fairview Fire

City News Service

(CNS) – A tropical storm has helped firefighters establish containment lines around more than half of the deadly Fairview Fire southeast of Hemet, but full containment was not expected until the weekend, authorities said Tuesday.

The fire was 62% contained as of 7 a.m. Tuesday after burning 28,307 acres, causing two deaths and destroying at least 21 structures.

The estimated time for full containment was Saturday.

Justin McGough, branch chief for day operations in the firefight, called Monday “another real productive day” for firefighters.

“The fire behavior was moderated by the cloud cover, and by the increase in relative humidity, (which) enabled crews to get in there and really get some depth, getting into the burn area to go after some of the heavier fuels that still continue to smolder, that may threaten our control lines later on in the incident,” he said Tuesday morning.

The Riverside County Fire Department acknowledged Sunday that the rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Kay had positive and negative effects.

“Some of these thunderstorms produced heavy rain and localized flooding,” officials said. “Recent rains will bring excellent humidity recoveries tonight. Temperatures will remain mild overnight as well with relatively light winds.”

Officials expressed concern that deep-seated heat would remain in the smoldering burn area and the vegetation will begin to dry out once the tropical weather ends.

Rain last Friday and Saturday did allow authorities to reduce some of the evacuation orders from mandatory to voluntary, but officials warned fire behavior could still be unpredictable so residents allowed to return to their homes were “highly encouraged to remain alert during this dynamic incident.”

Mandatory evacuations remained in place for residents east of the fire perimeter to the U.S. Forest Service boundary, south of Cactus Valley Road, east of Sage Road, north of Stanley Road, north of Diego Flat and Tripp Flatts, as well as south of Cactus Valley Road and south of the fire perimeter, northwest of Cottonwood Truck Trail and west of Rouse Ridge to the burn area, and Bautista Road south of Fairview.

Evacuation warnings were lifted for an area west of Mountain Center, south of Highway 74, east of Fairview Avenue, south of Stetson Avenue, east of State Street, north of Cactus Valley Road to the fire perimeter, and west of Sage Road, north of East Benton Road, east of De Portola Road, south of Cactus Valley Road, west of the U.S. Forest Service boundary, north of Wilson Valley Road, east of Sage Road, and south of Stanley Road.

Evacuation centers were set up at Tahquitz High School at 4425 Titan Trail in Hemet, Temecula Valley High School at 31555 Ranch Vista Road, the Temecula Community Center at 30875 Rancho Vista Road, and Redlands East Valley High School, 31000 E. Colton Ave.

The shelter at Tahquitz High School closed Tuesday morning, and the Temecula Community Recreation Center expected to close by noon, according to the American Red Cross. Redlands East Valley High School remained open for individuals who were impacted by possible debris flows.

Large animals were being accepted at the Riverside County Animal Shelter at 438 S. State St. in San Jacinto, and smaller pats were being accepted at the Small Animal Care Center at 601 S. State St.

All fees for retaining pets will be waived under the county emergency order, according to spokesman John Welsh of the Department of Animal Services.

Officials also said Tuesday that a recovery call center has been opened to assist residents who had their home damaged or destroyed in the fire. The number is 951-358-5134 and will be staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The San Bernardino National Forest issued a forest closure order for areas affected by the fire.

The Hemet Unified School District, where schools were closed last week, re-opened its campuses Monday.

The fire was reported shortly after 2 p.m. on Sept. 5 on Fairview Avenue and Bautista Road.

Two civilians were killed and one was severely injured early in the fire. Sheriff’s officials confirmed Wednesday the two deceased victims were found inside a vehicle in the 42400 block of Avery Canyon Road in East Hemet Monday, apparently overcome by the flames while trying to leave.

The two victims have not been formally identified by authorities, but friends identified them to reporters as Ian Compton and his autistic daughter Mikayla Porter. Friends said their family pets were also killed. Compton’s wife, Tina, was severely burned and remains hospitalized. A sheriff’s official said Wednesday the woman, who was found outside the vehicle on Avery Canyon Road, was expected to survive.

The Riverside County Emergency Management Department declared a local emergency Wednesday due to the fire, enabling the county to apply for federal and state relief. The Board of Supervisors formally approved the proclamation during its meeting Tuesday. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency covering the fire zone last week.

As of Tuesday, 2,132 firefighters remained assigned to the fire, working under a unified command that includes Cal Fire Riverside, the U.S. Forest Service and the Riverside County Fire Department. The fire was still threatening 112 structures.

The cause of the fire was under investigation. In a document filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, Southern California Edison reported “circuit activity” in the area close to the time the fire erupted.

On Saturday, a helicopter used to help fight the blaze crashed at Banning Municipal Airport. The pilot and two firefighters suffered moderate injuries and were taken to a trauma center for treatment, authorities said.

Three people were arrested on suspicion of burglary and looting in an evacuation area near the fire last weekend. Deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department responded to a report of three people casing a neighborhood in a white Chevrolet Blazer at around 1:40 p.m. Saturday and found a broken window to a residence in the 31400 block of Cora Lee Lane.

Copyright 2022, City News Service, Inc.

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