Fierce winds that whipped up early Thursday sparked new fires across Southern California, including a destructive blaze that tore into neighborhoods in north San Bernardino and destroyed homes.
The Hillside fire erupted about 1:40 a.m. near Highway 18 at Lower Waterman Canyon and quickly spread into neighborhoods, consuming at least 200 acres and burning multiple homes as authorities rushed to evacuate sleeping residents, San Bernardino County Firefighter Chris Prater said.
Fire officials ordered mandatory evacuations north of 50th Street, west of Highway 18 and east of Mayfield Street. An evacuation center has been established at 1020 Pacific St. in San Bernardino. Approximately 490 homes are under mandatory evacuation affecting some 1,300 residents.
“If you live in an evacuation zone, go ahead and leave now,” Prater said.
Footage from the scene showed waves of embers flying onto residential streets, igniting palm trees and setting homes ablaze. Two homes on Saturn Court appeared to have burned, but the number of homes lost in the fire was not immediately clear.
More than 450 firefighters and a helicopter are trying to protect homes and get control of the raging blaze. Their efforts have been made more difficult by intense winds gusting at speeds above 30 mph, Prater said.
The Times is offering fire coverage for free today. Please consider a subscription to support our journalism.
“The wind has been the biggest factor in the fire spread,” he said.
About an hour before the Hillside fire started, a blaze at Rancho Jurupa Park in Jurupa Valley was already well underway. That fire, dubbed the 46 fire, broke out at 12:39 a.m. and burned 150 acres over several hours. The fire, which forced mandatory evacuations, has damaged two homes and two other structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Residents south of Limonite Avenue, west of Crestmore, east of Van Buren and north of the Santa Ana River have been placed under mandatory evacuation orders. An evacuation center has been set up at Patriot High School at 4355 Camino Real in Jurupa Valley.
The two blazes were among more than two dozen fires that were sparked by an extreme Santa Ana wind event that will batter Southern California through late Thursday.
The biggest firefight Wednesday was in Ventura County, where 1,000 firefighters trying to control the wind-driven Easy fire that surrounded the Reagan Library were stymied by intense gusts that sent embers flying far beyond the body of the blaze. As the fire burned Wednesday, helicopters repeatedly dropped loads of water around the Reagan complex, which is perched atop a hill blanketed in dense brush, amid 60-mph winds that were strong enough to knock a person off balance.
Southern California Edison confirmed Wednesday evening that the Easy fire, which has burned 1,650 acres, broke out in its service territory near one of its sub-transmission lines, which was not de-energized at the time of ignition. The utility has notified the California Public Utilities Commission that there was activity on the sub-transmission line around the reported time of the fire, spokesman Robert Villegas said.
The exact cause of the fire is not known. Three firefighters have been injured in the blaze, and two structures have been destroyed.
Other smaller fires erupted in communities including Riverside, Santa Clarita, Brea, Whittier, Lancaster, Calabasas, Fullerton, Long Beach, Nuevo and Jurupa Valley.
Shortly before 8 p.m., a brush fire erupted near Gilbert Street and Castlewood Drive in Fullerton, prompting the evacuation of homes in the area, the Fullerton Fire Department said in a Facebook post. Gilbert Street was closed between Rosecrans Avenue and Imperial Boulevard.
The fire has burned 8 acres and is contained to the northeast corner of Gilbert and Castlewood, the Fullerton Police Department said in an update issued about 9:45 p.m. No homes are at risk of burning, police said, and residents who fled on foot were permitted to return home starting about 10:30 p.m.
This Santa Ana wind event is forecast to be unusually strong and long-lasting, and weather observations showed how dangerous the conditions are.
The air was parched on Wednesday, with relative humidity hitting zero atop Mt. Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains and on peaks in the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. Humidity levels all over Southern California were extremely dry even at lower elevations, with Sinaloa Lake in Simi Valley getting as low as 8% and Moorpark, 7%, said Lisa Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Forecasters warned that conditions will remain extreme through most of Thursday. The air will continue to be dry, and although Santa Ana winds have probably peaked, they’ll still be strong, expected to gust between 40 mph and 60 mph, said Kristen Stewart, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.