Blaze near Murrieta Prompts Evacuations, Road Closures

MURRIETA (CNS) - A wildfire possibly ignited by lightning just west of Murrieta had grown to roughly 2,000 acres by this afternoon, triggering evacuations, road and school closures.

The ``Tenaja'' blaze was reported about 3:55 p.m. Wednesday in the area of Clinton Keith and Tenaja roads, in the unincorporated community of La Cresta, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

As of 3 this afternoon, the fire was almost 10 percent contained, with no injuries reported. But crews were contending with spot fires erupting outside of the main fire lines, slowing progress in encircling the blaze.

All residents on Belcara Place, Botanica Place, Lone Oak Way, Montanya Place, The Trails Circle and Copper Canyon North and South, between Clinton Keith and Murrieta Creek, were under mandatory evacuation orders, while areas of Bear Creek were under a voluntary evacuation warning. The Santa Rosa Plateau Visitor Center was shuttered as the flames moved along the western side of Clinton Keith, crossing ridges, on Wednesday.

A care and reception center was available for displaced residents at Murrieta Mesa High School. Small animals were being accepted at that location, while larger animals, including horses, were being accepted at the county's San Jacinto Animal Campus on Grand Avenue.

Parking for horse trailers was available at Los Alamos Hills Sports Park on Ruth Ellen Way in Murrieta, and people with RVs or motorhomes were invited to utilize free space and hookups at the Lake Skinner Recreation Area on Warren Road.

Clinton Keith Road was closed south of Avenida La Cresta, and Tenaja Road was shut down between Via Volcano and Clinton Keith for public safety and to give crews freedom to maneuver.

Eighty-seven engine crews and a dozen hand crews, numbering over 500 personnel, were battling the flames, aided by six Cal Fire air tankers and several water-dropping helicopters.

Along with county crews, firefighters from Murrieta Fire & Rescue, the Hemet Fire Department, Corona Fire Department and the U.S. Forest Service were on the fire lines.

About 10 p.m. Wednesday, the Murrieta Valley Unified School District announced all of its schools would be closed Thursday.

``This measure was taken in consideration for the safety and well- being of our students, staff and their families,'' the district said in a social media post. ``In addition, with the number of mandatory and voluntary evacuations in place and road closures in the area of the fire, we anticipate students, staff and teachers would have difficulty getting to school sites (Thursday).''

A thunderstorm cell moved through the area just prior to the fire, and it's suspected that a lightning strike ignited it.

Power lines were reported down at the location.

Southern California Edison was coordinating with the fire department to determine whether transmission lines throughout La Cresta should be shut down as a safety precaution, a process known as ``de-energization.''

The county Department of Public Health issued an air quality advisory, warning residents north and east of the Tenaja blaze that fire debris could have negative health impacts.

``Ash and smoke can be hard on anyone to breathe, but especially those with lung disease,'' said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county's public health officer. ``Everyone worries about the flames, but smoke can impact you even if you're miles away from the fire.''

He recommended young children and those in sensitive health stay indoors and run air conditioners -- with unobstructed filters -- to minimize the effects of smoke and ash.

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