TRABUCO CANYON (CNS) - Firefighters continued making progress today in their efforts to fully surround the week-old Holy Fire, but evacuation orders remained in place for thousands of people. Firefighters took advantage of lower temperatures and higher humidity Sunday to extend lines of cleared vegetation to 52 percent of area around the 22,714-acre fire zone. But the flames still edged toward a retirement community wedged between the Santa Ana Mountains and Interstate 15 north of Lake Elsinore, prompting voluntary evacuation orders for 1,317 residential units in the Trilogy Glen Ivy retirement community.
Meanwhile, mandatory evacuations were lifted for the Lake Elsinore community in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Mandatory evacuations were also lifted for the Glen Eden community but remained in place for the El Cariso, Blue Jay and Rancho Capistrano areas. With firefighters appearing to be gaining the upper hand, 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, 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 from 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.
In Orange County, Trabuco and Holy Jim canyons remained under mandatory evacuation orders, and all campgrounds in the Trabuco Ranger District were closed. Backcountry fire roads were closed to hiking and bicycling, including Trabuco Creek, Maple Springs, North Main Divide, Bedford and Indian Truck Trail. According to the U.S. Forest Service, about 3,000 people are under evacuation orders Monday, down from about 20,000 at the height of the fire. An evacuation center remains open at Temescal Canyon High School, 28755 El Toro Road in Lake Elsinore.
More than 1,300 firefighters continued to battle the fire, which spread from Orange County's eastern mountains towards Santiago Peak, and over the mountains to the hills above Lake Elsinore. Structure defense was expected to continue in areas still threatened by flames while mop up will be ongoing as crews bring the fire under control, officials said.
Ortega (74) Highway remained closed due to firefighting efforts. 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.
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