The wet and windy conditions brought by the former Tropical Storm Kay have thus far helped firefighters’ efforts to contain the deadly Fairview Fire near Hemet.
The fire was mapped at 28,307 acres as of Friday night with 40% containment, officials said, up from only 5% Friday morning.
Despite the progress, the fire has taken a heavy toll. In addition to the two fatalities and one injury caused by the blaze, at least 13 structures have been destroyed, including several homes, and four more have been damaged.
While the worst of Southern California’s brutal heat wave has passed, fire crews are working in heavy rain and strong winds associated with Kay, which became a post-tropical cyclone Friday night but still brought dangers of its own.
“The National Weather Service forecasts up to 7 inches of rain in areas of Riverside County, which could lead to flash flooding and potential mud and debris flows,” county officials said in a news release.
Forecasters say areas most susceptible to flooding include the Coachella Valley and recent burn areas.
“Based on forecasts, this appears to be a dangerous storm. We want the public to prepare now,” explained Bruce Barton, director of the Emergency Management Department. “If you encounter a road that’s flooded, never try to walk or drive through it.”
A flash flood watch is also in effect for San Bernardino County and Lake Havasu City through Saturday night.
“When the water is rushing down the hillside in a burn scar, what we’re looking at is that there’s nothing to hold back the water and the mud, so both can come down the hill and create a flash flood scenario and can be deadly if people aren’t taking that into consideration,” said Battalion Chief Michael Westfall of the San Bernardino County Fire Department.
Sandbags are available for residents at many fire stations and hardware stores, the county said.
One person who lost her home in the Fairview Fire, Tiffany Huertas, said it only took about 20 minutes after seeing smoke over the mountain until her neighbor’s yard was ablaze.
“I have a 9-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, and it hurts to see my kids. ‘Mom, all my stuff’s gone,'” she said.
Kam Kermani’s father, Saeed, who is 70 years old and has multiple sclerosis, lost his home and his possessions as well.
“He’s devastated. He’s a proud Middle Eastern man and to hear him emotional and sad and crying, it’s hard on everybody,” Kermani said.
On Friday afternoon, some evacuation orders were downgraded to evacuation warnings, allowing some to return home, though many homeowners — despite the risk — never left at all.
Despite the easing restrictions, fire officials encouraged area residents to “stay vigilant.”
More than 1,100 firefighters are battling the blaze in the air and on the ground.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.