By City News Service
CORONA – Crews worked on the ground and in the air today as they struggled to get control of a wind-fanned wildfire adjacent to the Riverside (91) Freeway on the Orange-Riverside county border that has scorched about 2,000 acres, prompting the evacuation of some 1,500 people from around 500 Riverside County homes.
Dubbed the Canyon Fire, the blaze broke out about 1 p.m. Monday alongside the eastbound Riverside Freeway, just west of Green River Road in west Corona, and initially spread at a “moderate” rate to Coal Canyon Road off the freeway, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi.
The blaze, the cause of which was not immediately known, prompted evacuations in Corona in Riverside County.
The fire began spreading at a “rapid rate” around 3 p.m. Monday, fanned by Santa Ana winds blowing at 20 to 25 mph. By Monday night, it had charred about 2,000 acres, damaged a single-family home and a big rig and was only 5 percent contained, Concialdi said.
Early Tuesday, fire officials said the blaze had blackened about 2,500 acres, but they walked back that figure to 2,000 acres around mid-morning.
Concialdi noted, however, that authorities were working to map the fire and would likely have a more accurate acreage by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Firefighters were battling the blaze amid highs in the 90s.
“We’re anticipating with the wind — with the north and northeast winds — that we could get some spread, but again, we have nine helicopters and nine fixed-wing aircraft that will be actively committed today, as well has hundreds of firefighters on the ground to get this fire under control and in check,” Concialdi said.
Fire crews confirmed that one house was damaged by the flames, although the extent was not immediately known. It was unclear if any of the other roughly 500 homes that were threatened Monday suffered any damage.
“When we talk about 500 homes that were threatened, it takes time for assessment teams to go out there to see if any homes were damaged,” Concialdi said. “But we know of one that has been confirmed that has been damaged. No homes have been destroyed.’’
A Corona police officer directing traffic was injured by a hit-and-run driver about 8:30 p.m. Monday at Green River Road and Montana Ranch Road, according to Corona police Detective Andy Bryant.
David Shaheen, 53, of Corona, was booked on suspicion of felony hit-and-run for allegedly driving around traffic control barriers at the intersection and hitting the patrol officer, Bryant said. The officer was taken to a hospital where he was treated and released, Bryant said.
“Fortunately for him he was wearing his helmet because he hit his head on the ground,” Bryant said. Shaheen posted bail and was released, Bryant said.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered Monday for about 500 homes, affecting roughly 1,500 residents in the Dominguez Ranch area of Corona, Concialdi said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, fire officials reopened access to homes north of Green River Road and Foothill Parkway. Only residents with valid identification were being permitted into the area.
Mandatory evacuations remained in effect for homes south of Green River Road and Foothill Parkway.
An evacuation shelter was set up in the gymnasium at Corona High School.
Battling the blaze were firefighters from the Anaheim, Corona, and Los Angeles County fire departments, the OCFA, U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire.
The fire prompted the Corona Norco Unified School District to cancel classes Tuesday at four schools — Coronita Elementary School, John Adams Elementary School, Cesar Chavez Academy and Prado View Elementary School — due to active evacuations, road closures and poor air quality, district officials announced on Facebook.
All other district schools will be open, including Corona High School, but all schools in session today will be on inclement weather schedule due to poor air quality, officials said.
Several lanes on the eastbound Riverside Freeway at Coal Canyon Road were initially closed to make room for firefighting equipment, backing up traffic for miles, the California Highway Patrol reported.
For many commuting from the Inland Empire to Orange County, the Riverside Freeway is the only access point, said CHP Officer Florentino Olivera. “But we’re asking the public, if possible, to avoid the eastbound 91.”