MURRIETA (CNS) - A wind-driven wildfire that may have been started by a lightning strike had scorched nearly 1,000 acres just west of Murrietta, prompted evacuations and the closure of schools and was 7% contained this morning.
The blaze was first 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.
In the course of an hour Wednesday night, the fire exploded from 250 acres burned to nearly 1,000 acres, the fire department said.
The agency reported 44 engine crews and seven hand crews, numbering about 500 personnel, were sent to the location and encountered flames in heavy vegetation, spreading to the north.
Along with county crews, firefighters from Murrieta Fire & Rescue and other agencies were working to contain the fire, which slowed as nightfall approached.
About 10 p.m., 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 post on its Facebook page.
“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).”
All residents on The Trails Circle and Copper Canyon North and South were under mandatory evacuation orders and areas of Bear Creek were under a voluntary evacuation order. The Santa Rosa Plateau Visitor Center was shuttered, as the flames moved along the western side of Clinton Keith Road, crossing ridges, the fire department said.
“This is the time people need to heed, need to make sure they prepare and start voluntary evacuating,” Riverside County fire Capt. Fernando Herrera told KCAL9 Wednesday night. “Don't wait until the last minute, don't wait until that mandatory (evacuation order), it may be too late.”
A care and reception center was established for displaced residents at Murrieta Mesa High School. Small animals were being accepted at that location. Accommodations for larger animals were available at the San Jacinto Animal Shelter.
Six Cal Fire air tankers and three water-dropping helicopters made runs on the blaze, but pulled out by 8 p.m. due to poor visibility.
Clinton Keith Road was closed south of Avenida La Cresta, and Tenaja Road was shut down between Via Volcano and Clinton Keith Road for public safety and to give crews freedom to maneuver.
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.
Photo: CAL Fire Riverside