A fourth wildfire broke out in western Riverside County on Saturday even as three others continued to burn, scorching thousands of acres and forcing evacuations as a blistering heat wave held much of the country in its grip and was expected to intensify this weekend in Nevada, Arizona and California.
The Rabbit fire, which began Friday afternoon in the community of Lakeview, had burned 7,600 acres with 10% containment as of Sunday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry/Riverside County Fire Department.
An evacuation order was issued for homes north and west of Highway 79, east and west of California Avenue, north and south of First Street, east and west of Manzanita Park Road; east of Jack Rabbit Trail; west of Highland Springs Road, and north of Forest Boundary Line.
Triple-digit temperatures across the region and difficult topography are proving challenging for crews battling the wildfire, said Tawny Castro, public information officer with the county fire department.
The fire is “within a canyon with quite a few hills and changes in elevation,” Castro said. Ground crews are being assisted by air tankers and helicopters dropping water and fire retardant on the flames.
In Beaumont, at the summit of San Gorgonio Pass Axel Sanchez watched as clouds of smoke from the Rabbit fire billowed in the sky.
Sanchez, an employee at Mr. Taco restaurant on Beaumont Avenue just north of the fire evacuation area, described the scene.
“It’s getting closer and looks pretty dangerous,” he said of the wildfire. “It’s just an inferno. Ash is raining down and people are coming in here covered in ash.”
With the searing heat and poor air quality, business was brisk Saturday afternoon, he said.
“It’s like a safe haven here right now,” Sanchez said. “Our dining room is full and people get to be inside in the air conditioning and enjoy beer and refreshments.”
Another blaze, dubbed the Reche fire, had charred 437 acres in an unincorporated area north of Moreno Valley, with 60% containment as of Sunday morning, officials said. Video from the scene showed at least one structure engulfed in flames, but it was unclear whether any others had been damaged.
July 11, 2023
Nearly 300 firefighters were battling the blaze.
Evacuations were ordered Friday afternoon for residents south of Reche Canyon Road, north of Reche Vista Drive, west of Trust Way and east of Alta Vista Drive, authorities said. That order was downgraded to a warning Friday night.
The warning remained in place Saturday, along with an evacuation warning for Moreno Valley residents south of Alta Vista Drive, north of Ironwood Avenue, west of Moreno Drive and east of Perris Boulevard.
The Reche fire has also forced the closure of a roughly four-mile section of Reche Canyon Road, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. Authorities set up an evacuation center at Valley View High School, 13135 Nason St.
The Highland fire, burning south of Beaumont, had burned 105 acres and was 70% contained. The fire briefly forced evacuations along Breckenridge Avenue between Highland Springs Avenue and Sunningdale Street.
All evacuation warnings and orders issued for the Highland fire were lifted by 9 p.m. Friday.
The Gavilan Fire, near Gavilan and Idaleona roads west of Perris, had burned 250 acres and was 50% contained. Evacuation orders for south of Country Pine Road, east of Gold Valley Road, and north of Idaleona Road were downgraded Saturday evening to a warning.
The cause of the fires remained under investigation, authorities said. Officials did not yet have information on whether any buildings were damaged.
Meanwhile, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory and warned of unhealthy air in western Riverside County because of the wildfires.
July 15, 2023
The fires broke out as a high pressure “heat dome” continued to scorch most of the West, increasing the risk of heat-related health issues and wildfires. Nearly a third of Americans were under extreme heat advisories, watches and warnings this weekend.
Meteorologists in Las Vegas warned people not to underestimate the danger. “This heatwave is NOT typical desert heat due to its long duration, extreme daytime temperatures, & warm nights. Everyone needs to take this heat seriously, including those who live in the desert,” the National Weather Service in Las Vegas said in a tweet.
Phoenix on Saturday marked the city’s 16th consecutive day of temperatures 110 degrees or higher, hitting 118 degrees by late afternoon and putting it on track to beat the longest measured stretch of such heat. The record is 18 days, recorded in 1974.
“This weekend there will be some of the most serious and hot conditions we’ve ever seen,” said David Hondula the city’s chief heat officer. “I think that it’s a time for maximum community vigilance.”
Much of California remained under an excessive heat warning or heat advisory, which will continue in many regions through next week, officials said.
Several temperature records were broken Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. In the Antelope Valley, Lancaster hit 112, Palmdale reached 111 and Sandberg reached 102. Records were also broken in Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, where temperatures reached 109, and in Santa Barbara County’s New Cuyama, which hit 105.
Blistering triple-digit temperatures were seen across the state. In Death Valley, it was 124 by Saturday evening. In Palm Springs, it was 115 and Redding was 109.
“It’s going to get just very, very hot,” said Elizabeth Adams, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s San Diego office. She said parts of Southern California, especially in the Coachella Valley, Inland Empire and San Diego County deserts, won’t see much cooling even in the evenings, with some overnight temperatures remaining in the 80s and 90s.
This kind of extreme heat is a concern for heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and has become increasingly deadly in recent years, health officials warned. Elderly people, young children and those who suffer from chronic illnesses are especially at risk and are advised to stay indoors or seek out air-conditioned cooling centers.
Across Riverside County, people seeking relief from the heat filed in to cooling centers set up around the county by the Community Action Partnership, a branch of the county Department of Housing and Workforce Solutions.
In the first few hours of opening on Saturday at least 15 people visited the center at Anza Valley Community Library in Anza, a rural, high-desert region where the temperatures passed 100 degrees by lunchtime.
“It can get a little uncomfortable up here,” said library associate Chantel Yarrow. “It feels like a heater is pounding down your head.”
In addition to air-conditioning, water, snacks and portable fans, visitors to the cooling center at the area’s sole library can check out books, use the computers and send their children to the toy corner, Yarrow said.
“We have a mixture of people who come in,” she said. “Sometimes they come in one at a time and sometimes the whole family comes in.”
The cooling center at the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission in Indio provides showers, meals and on-site counselors. It also has drivers on hand to transport visitors in need of immediate medical care to a hospital.
Most of the 40 or so people who use the center each day during the hottest times of the year are chronically homeless, emergency shelter manager David Douglas said. By the time they get to the cooling center, many are ill with dehydration or other heat-induced ailments.
“Some people need to go straight to the hospital,” Douglas said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.