Full containment of the deadly Fairview Fire southeast of Hemet could be achieved Monday thanks to moisture from the remnants of Tropical Storm Kay, authorities said Sunday.
The fire was 45% contained Sunday morning after burning 28,307 acres, causing two deaths and destroying 17 structures.
“Fire activity has been greatly reduced due to the moisture from Tropical Storm Kay. Deep-seated heat is still present in the dense old-growth brush fields, and stump holes. Fine flashy fuels will not sustain fire or ignition,” fire officials said Saturday night.
Rain on 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.”
Although authorities reported a big decrease in fire activity, they also reported finding “creeping and smoldering fire” in the area of Bautista Canyon and Avery Canyon.
“The brush in this area is dense, thick and old” and moisture has not reached the ground there, said Stephen Volmer, a fire behavior analyst for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Volmer said resources would be in that area Sunday to find smoke or creeping fire and fully extinguish it before Santa Ana winds arrive in the next couple of weeks.
As of 4 p.m. Sunday, evacuation warnings were lifted for the area of east of Fairview, north of Highway 74, south of San Jacinto Riverbed and west of Wilson Way. The area of west of Fairview, south of Highway 74, north of Stetson, and east of Soboba Street also had the evacuation warning lifted.
Highway 74 was fully reopened, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.
The area of west of Wilson Way, south of Highway 74, east of Fairview, and north of the fire perimeter had the evacuation order reduced to warning.
Mandatory evacuations remained in place for residents south of Cactus Valley Road, east of Sage Road, north of Stanley Road to the eastern border of the Cahuilla Mountain Wilderness, north of the southern border of the Cahuilla Mountain Wilderness Area, north of Tripps Flats, northwest of Cottonwood Truck Trail, and west of Rouse Ridge to the burn area.
Evacuation centers were set up at Tahquitz High School at 4425 Titan Trail in Hemet, Temecula Valley High School at 31555 Ranch Vista Road, and the
Temecula Community Center at 30875 Rancho Vista Road.
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.
Many roads were closed in the area as well, including a full closure of State Route 74 in the San Bernardino National Forest between Mountain Center and Borco Street, in the Valle Vista area.
The San Bernardino National Forest also issued a forest closure order for areas affected by the fire.
Officials with the Hemet Unified School District, where schools were closed last week, anticipated that all campuses would re-open Monday if conditions allowed.
The fire was reported shortly after 2 p.m. Monday 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 is slated to formally approve the proclamation during its meeting Tuesday. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency covering the fire zone last week.
As of Sunday, 2,284 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 2,462 structures. It destroyed 17 and damaged four, officials said.
It also destroyed 13 so-called minor structures and damaged one.
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.