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A rapidly escalating wildfire, known as the Highland Fires, wreaked havoc in Riverside County, California, spurred by intense Santa Ana winds that quickly propelled the blaze to a menacing scale, causing substantial destruction and prompting mass evacuations.
Initially reported on Monday at 12:37 p.m. PDT near Aguanga, California, the fire was a modest 14 acres. However, within seven hours, the fire expanded to 1,200 acres, rapidly transforming into a colossal inferno. By the early hours of Tuesday, the Highland fires had ravaged a vast 2,200 acres, remaining unchecked, with a containment rate of 0%, as confirmed by Cal Fire.
Amid the fire’s rapid expansion, it has already laid waste to at least three structures and caused damage to six others. The alarming situation compelled immediate evacuation orders that began on Monday afternoon, swiftly extending through the evening and into the following morning.
The crisis has forced the evacuation of over 1,100 homes, affecting approximately 4,000 individuals, as detailed by Riverside Fire spokesperson Maggie Cline De La Rosa in a CNN report. Moreover, an additional 1,700 people have been cautioned about possible impending evacuation.
The evacuation mandates and advisories, intended to prepare residents for possible evacuation orders, persist actively. The harsh weather conditions continue to pose a significant challenge to the efforts of firefighters and harbor the potential to exacerbate the fire’s expansion.
As of Tuesday morning, approximately 310 firefighters from 49 engine companies were actively combating the blaze, as confirmed by Cal Fire authorities.
Investigations are ongoing to ascertain the cause of the Highland fires. Although the source remains undisclosed, the swift propagation of the wildfire can be attributed to the prevailing environmental conditions. The arid atmosphere and robust winds in California on Monday and Tuesday created an optimal environment for rapid fire escalation.
The potent Santa Ana winds, characterized by their hot and dry nature, originated over the weekend in Southern California. These winds, which can exceed 50 mph near the fire zone, result from air moving from higher elevations to sea level, compressed by higher pressure, thus heating and desiccating the air. They possess the ability to dry out vegetation and propagate existing fires.
It’s noteworthy that California wildfires while concerning, have been considerably below the average mark this year. As of October 31, over 315,000 acres have been burned, significantly less than the typical 1.5 million acres that California wildfires have consumed by this period, according to CAL FIRE statistics.