(KGTV) — The Holy Fire raged through brushy, drylands between Orange and Riverside Counties for the fifth day, as more than 20,000 remained evacuated.
The fire has scorched 22,158 acres since Monday after it ignited in the Trabuco Canyon area of Cleveland National Forest. As of Saturday night, it was 36 percent contained.
More than 1,500 firefighters, 86 water-dropping helicopters, and 14 fixed-wing aircraft have been fighting the blaze, as steep terrain and made it difficult for fire crews and engines to get close to flames.
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Forest officials said Saturday firefighting efforts are focused on community defense, specifically on limiting the fire's spread south toward Ortega Highway, protecting Coldwater Canyon at the fire's north end, and keeping the fire west of I-15.
A state of emergency has been declared for Orange and Riverside Counties, freeing up California's Office of Emergency Service to aid affected areas.
The declaration also waives various requirements for state agencies to procure materials, goods and services to assist with the response and recovery from the impacts of the fire; suspends the one-week waiting period to apply for unemployment benefits for people who have lost their jobs because of the fire; allows people who have lost their driver's license, vehicle registration certificate or certificate of title for their vehicles because of the fire to get free replacements; and to get free replacements of birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates destroyed by the fire.
SUSPECT CHARGED WITH FIRE
Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, who is accused of starting the Holy Fire, was formally charged Thursday, though his arraignment has been postponed for the second time.
Clark's arraignment will now be held on Aug. 17, after courtroom outbursts and bizarre behavior prompted the judge to approve a request to move the arraignment once again.
His bail remains at $1 million. Clark has been charged with one felony count each of aggravated arson of five or more inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest, criminal threats, two felony counts of resisting and deterring an executive officer, and a sentencing enhancement for arson burning multiple structures.
It was later discovered that Clark had allegedly sent threatening emails to a volunteer fire chief last week, including one that said, "this place will burn down," according to the Orange County Register.
EVACUATIONS AND ROAD CLOSURES
Mandatory evacuations remain in place for nearly 7,500 homes and structures. At least 12 structures have been destroyed by the fire. Officials estimated about 21,484 people have been evacuated as result of the fire.
Mandatory evacuations have been issued for: Holy Jim, Trabuco Canyon Recreation Residence Tracts, Blue Jay and Falcon Campgrounds, El Cariso Village, Rancho Capistrano, Glen Eden Canyon, and Sycamore Creek communities.
Evacuations for Horsethief Canyon, McVicker Canyon, and Rice Canyon areas were lifted Saturday, with Mountain St. at Avocado Way still closed in Lake Elsinore.
A complete closure of Ortega Highway was issued by Caltrans, and CHP has placed a closure on about 28 miles of roadway, from Grand Avenue in Lake Elsinore to the Nichols Institute entrance in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. Road closures for DePalma from Horsethief Canyon to Indian Truck Trail, and Campbell Rd. at Temescal Canyon was also issued Saturday.
Riverside County created a website for residents to look up their evacuation status.
A care and reception center was established at Temescal Canyon High School on El Toro Road in Lake Elsinore. An evacuation center is also open at San Juan Hills High School at 29211 Stallion Ridge in San Juan Capistrano.
Small animals can be taken to Animal Friends of the Valley at 33751 Mission Trail in Wildomar. Information is available by calling (951) 674-0618 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. or (951) 506-5069 between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. For those under mandatory evacuation, animals large and small can also be taken to Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park, 30753 La Plata Road in San Juan Capistrano.
Livestock was being accepted at Elsinore High School in the 21800 block of Canyon Drive.
Thick smoke and ash spewing from the Holy Fire scorching Orange and Riverside counties have prompted air quality warnings in the area.
Riverside County officials issued the warning Wednesday for "unhealthy air quality levels" in the county due to the fire. Air quality level maps Thursday showed unhealthy levels for sensitive groups in the Santa Ana and Perris regions.
Moderate air quality levels surrounded that area in places like Lake Elsinore, Murrieta, Temecula, Hemet, and San Clemente.