Fire Races Through Cleveland National Forest Near Holy Jim

CLEVELAND NATIONAL FOREST (CNS) - Fueled by thick, tinder-dry vegetation that hasn't burned in nearly four decades, a brush fire raced through the Cleveland National Forest in the Holy Jim Canyon area, rapidly exploding in size as flames gobbled up acreage while moving toward the Riverside County line. 

The blaze was reported about 1:15 p.m., initially near Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Creek roads, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito, but a spokeswoman for the Cleveland National Forest said it might have been closer to 2 p.m.Initially reported at seven-to-10 acres, the fire raced its way across 75 acres within 30 minutes. As of 4 p.m., the fire had already scorched more than 1,000 acres, said Jeanna Smith of the Cleveland National Forest. Burning amid near-triple-digit temperatures but minimal wind, the blaze sent up a massive cloud of smoke that could be seen for miles in all directions. 

At least one cabin was engulfed by flames, Bommarito said. 

Precautionary evacuation orders were issued for the sparsely populated Holy Jim community and Trabuco Canyon area, home to dozens of weekend cabins. Also, Blue Jay Campground and El Cariso Campground off Highway 74 were evacuated.No evacuation center was immediately established, and no injuries were reported.``There probably aren't too many people back there,'' Smith said. The OCFA said residents in the Holy Jim area can call the Public Information Hotline at (714) 628-7085. 

Roughly a dozen water-dropping aircraft were being used to help control the blaze, with the U.S. Forest Service taking the lead in coordinating efforts to douse the blaze. 

Bommarito said the area probably hasn't burned since about 1980.``That area hasn't burned in quite awhile,'' Smith added. ``The chaparral is probably 7 to 8 feet tall.''Firefighters are working to halt the fire's march at the North Main Divide, the dirt road along the crest of the mountain, Smith said. Homes along Interstate 15 are about a couple of miles away, she added.

``We're doing everything we can to hold it at the ridge at the North Main Divide,'' she said.

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