Holy Fire Grows to 19,100 Acres as Erratic Winds Hamper Efforts to Control Blaze Near Lake Elsinore

The Holy Fire continues to grow as erratic winds and dry conditions hamper firefighter's efforts to contain the massive blaze burning near Lake Elsinore Friday.

Fire officials announced the fire had grown to 19,107 acres Friday evening and was 10 percent contained.

“For those wondering about containment, the hand/containment line grows as the fire grows. We continue to actively engage, but cannot get ahead of the fire,” the U. S. Forest Service stated in a tweet.

More than 21,000 people remain evacuated from about 7,500 homes Friday. However, some residents said they have decided to stay and protect their properties.

“I’ve worked very hard for my stuff, and the firefighters need as much help as they can soaking everything down and keeping everything safe, and afraid of looters coming in; they’re not getting my stuff,” Fredd Wann, of Corona, told KTLA on Friday evening.

Gusty winds have hampered firefighters’ efforts to get a handle on the wildfire, Cal Fire spokesperson Andy Turner said.

About 1 p.m. each afternoon cold air spills over the mountain toward the lake and causes an erratic and strong shift in the wind, Turner said.

The embers pushed by those winds “are causing spot fires pretty consistently,” Turner said.

Despite several dramatic scenes showing flames burning close to a number of nearby neighborhoods, officials say no structures were lost during Thursday’s firefight.

The 12 structures burned on Monday, when the fire first started in the Trabuco Canyon area near the Riverside County line, remain the only ones officially lost.

About 7,500 homes remain evacuated

The fire has forced officials to issue mandatory evacuation orders for Mayhew/Sycamore Creek, Glen Eden, Horsethief, Rice Canyon, Rice Lake, McVicker, Machado and South El Cariso, Riverside and Shoreline zones.

The evacuation area covers 7,449 single family homes and numerous commercial structures impacting an estimated 21,484 people.

Evacuation centers were opened at San Juan Hills High School in San Juan Capistrano, Elsinore High School in Wildomar and Temescal Canyon High School in Lake Elsinore.

The Lake Elsinore school was housing 144 evacuees, officials said, but numbers were not released on the other centers.

SCAQMD continues smoke advisory

Air quality in parts of at least three counties will likely reach unhealthy levels due to smoke from the Holy Fire, the South Coast Air Quality Management District stated Friday.

A smoke advisory will remain in effect through at least Saturday morning for the following areas:

  • Orange County: Areas 16 (Northern Orange County), 17 (Central Orange County), 18 (North Coastal Orange County), 19 (Saddleback Valley), 20 (Central Coastal Orange County), and 21 (Capistrano Valley).
  • Riverside County: Areas 22 (Corona/Norco), 23 (Metropolitan Riverside), 24 (Perris Valley), 25 (Lake Elsinore), 26 (Temecula Valley), 28 (Hemet/San Jacinto Valley), and 29 (Banning Pass).
  • San Bernardino County: Areas 32 (Northwest San Bernardino Valley), 33 (Southwest San Bernardino Valley), 34 (Central San Bernardino Valley), 35 (East San Bernardino Valley), 36 (West San Bernardino Mountains), 37 (Central San Bernardino Mountains), and 38 (East San Bernardino Mountains).

View current air quality conditions by region on this interactive map

Gov. Brown declares state of emergency

Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a state of emergency for Orange and Riverside counties Thursday night due to the fire burning in the Cleveland National Forest.

The declaration will make state resources available to officials in their efforts to suppress the Holy Fire.

Man accused of arson

Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, the man who allegedly started the fire, was charged Thursday with aggravated arson and criminal threats, among other offenses.

Clark was arrested this week on suspicion of setting off the blaze after he allegedly sent a text to a volunteer fire chief two weeks ago saying, "The place is going to burn."

Footage of the arrest shows the suspect standing in handcuffs without a shirt on as his neighbors' homes burn nearby.

Clark is being held at the Orange County Jail on $1 million bail. He was scheduled to appear in court on Thursday, but refused to leave his cell. He appeared in a Santa Ana courtroom on Friday, but his arraignment was again continued to Aug. 17.

If found guilty, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Before he was arrested, Clark told a freelance cameraman he was asleep when the fire started and had no idea how it began.

Over a dozen fires are burning in California

In addition to the Holy Fire, firefighters in California are battling 15 large fires.

The largest fire in state history is the Mendocino Complex Fire, which consists of the Ranch and River fires in Northern California. That blaze has burned 305,152 acres and injured two firefighters, and was 52% contained by Thursday night.

The second biggest fire is the Carr Fire in Shasta County, also in Northern California. The deadly fire has been burning for more than two weeks and consumed 178,752 acres as of Thursday night. It is 49% contained, and has killed eight people, including three firefighters.

The third largest is the Ferguson Fire, near Yosemite National Park, incinerating more than 95,000 acres. The fire has lasted more than three weeks and killed two people.