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More evacuations lifted as crews work to put out Holy Fire

Posted: 9:53 AM, Aug 14, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-15 02:44:15Z

TRABUCO CANYON, Calif. (CNS) - The week-old Holy Fire burning in Orange and Riverside counties has blackened 22,986 acres and was 64 percent contained Tuesday, but evacuation orders remain in place for thousands of people.

U.S. Forest Service officials said in a Tuesday afternoon tweet they expect the fire to be fully contained by Aug. 21.

In Orange County, Trabuco and Holy Jim canyons remain under mandatory evacuation orders, and all campgrounds in the Trabuco Ranger District are closed. Back country fire roads are closed to hiking and bicycling, including Trabuco Creek, Maple Springs, North Main Divide, Bedford and Indian Truck Trail.

But in a positive development for motorists, a long stretch of the Ortega (74) Highway that has been closed between Orange and Riverside counties due to the fire was reopened to traffic Tuesday.

In Riverside County, evacuation orders were lifted for the El Cariso and Rancho Capistrano areas, but mandatory evacuations remained in place for the Mystic Oaks community near Long Canyon Road. The Blue Jay, Falcon and Los Pinos campgrounds all remained closed, along with trails leading into the burn area.

HOLY FIRE:

A voluntary evacuation order for the Trilogy area in Temescal Valley also remained in effect.

U.S. Forest Service officials said they anticipate full containment of the blaze by Friday.

Although the number of evacuation orders continued to dwindle, an evacuation center remained open at Temescal Canyon High School, 28755 El Toro Road in Lake Elsinore.

Aided by 14 water-dropping helicopters and seven fixed-wing aircraft, firefighters on the ground will work to build fire lines to the north and east of the fire's point of origin in Holy Jim Canyon, according to the Forest Service. The 1,399 firefighters battling the blaze will focus on protecting homes and buildings.

Menifee Union School District schools reopened Monday, five days after their school year was supposed to begin. Other affected districts delayed their first days of school until next week. The Lake Elsinore Unified School District will go back on Aug. 20.

Schools in the Corona-Norco Unified School District located south of the 91 Freeway and east of Border Avenue in Corona also pushed back the first day of school until next Monday.

Firefighters were able to save a threatened school in the district, Rice Canyon Elementary, from flames, stopping them just before they reached the campus.

The city of Corona announced a day camp to help working parents of students this week. It will be open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Fees are $110 for residents and $140 for non-residents, with priority for parents of students at fire-affected schools.

As of Monday, 18 homes had been confirmed destroyed -- 12 in Orange County and six in Riverside County. The Orange County structures lost were believed to be primarily in the Holy Jim Canyon area, the flashpoint of the fire.

A full assessment of damage was continuing.

The fire was initially reported at 1:15 p.m. Aug. 6 near Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Creek roads, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito said. The fire dramatically increased in size near the Horsethief Canyon area on Wednesday, then jumped the North Main Divide dirt road, burning into the Lake Elsinore area of Riverside County, Bommarito said.

Bommarito noted that the area probably hasn't burned since the early 1980s.

The man accused of starting the fire, 51-year-old Forrest Gordon Clark, remained jailed in Santa Ana in lieu of $1 million bail, an amount he scoffed at during an animated appearance in a Santa Ana courtroom Friday. He labeled the arson charges against him a "lie" and insisted he was being threatened by gang members.

When a court commissioner ordered his bail to remain at $1 million, Clark said he could easily afford it and asked whether he could pay it right away.

Clark was charged with aggravated arson damaging at least five inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest and criminal threats, all felonies, as well as two misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest.

His arraignment was delayed until this coming Friday, and he could face 10 years to life in prison.

Residents seeking information on the Holy Fire may call (714) 573-6200, or register at rivcoready.org for text updates.