Blaze Erupts in Santa Ana River Bottom near Norco

NORCO (CNS) - A wind-whipped brush fire that broke out today in the Santa Ana River bottom on the east end of Norco charred roughly 175 acres and triggered evacuations before crews got it partially contained.

The blaze was reported about 10 a.m. in the vicinity of Arlington and California avenues, within the Hidden Valley Wildlife Area, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

By 3:30 p.m., the brusher's forward rate of spread had been stopped, and it was 20% contained, the agency said.

Capt. Fernando Herrera credited the gradually subsiding Santa Ana winds with aiding crews in gaining ground.

``We're moving closer in, using bulldozers and ground resources, encircling the head of the fire,'' he told City News Service. ``Things are looking a lot better than this morning.''

More than 200 personnel, comprising engine crews and truck companies from the county and city of Riverside, as well as the Orange County Fire Authority, Corona Fire Department and Cal Fire inmate hand crews, were on the fire lines.

Three water-dropping helicopters, including one from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, were making runs on the blaze, using a Jurupa Valley golf course pond to water up.

``The coastal winds will start kicking in, but as long as they're not significant, we should be OK,'' Herrera said.

He said there were two minor smoke inhalation injuries involving civilians.

A mandatory evacuation order was implemented for all properties between Grulla Court to the north and Eighth Street to the south, Pedley Avenue to the west and Crestview Drive to the east.

According to the fire department, five properties sustained fire damage, all of which was concentrated along fences and the exteriors of outbuildings.

Evacuation centers were established at Corona High School, 1150 W. 10th St., and Jurupa Valley High School, 10551 Bellegrave Ave. Large animals, principally horses -- Norco is known as ``Horsetown USA'' -- were being accepted for temporary placement at the Ingalls Equestrian Event Center, 3737 Crestview Drive.

There was no immediate word on what triggered the fire. The river bottom is dotted with homeless encampments, and warming fires lit by the inhabitants are notorious for turning into infernos during high winds.

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