Structure damage reported in Corona as Canyon fire grows to 2,000 acres
A dangerous fire that has claimed at least one structure in Corona was raging late into the night Monday as firefighters continued trying to save hundreds of threatened homes in an evacuated neighborhood.
The Canyon fire, which started Monday afternoon along the 91 Freeway near the Orange-Riverside county line, had grown to 1,700 to 2,000 acres by 10 p.m. and was 5 percent contained.
Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt, the fire’s public information officer, had a report that one structure had burned, but he didn’t have a location. Officials also said a big rig was burned.
Television news footage showed a structure that appeared to be on fire on Wilderness Circle and Misty Lane. A Southern California News Group photographer saw firefighters quickly knock down a fire that started on the roof of a house on San Ramon Drive.
About 300 firefighters from around the region were battling the fire. Wyatt said the firefighting strategy overnight and into Tuesday morning would depend on the weather.
The tactics changed several times Monday as the wind changed direction. It was blowing east toward Corona as Wyatt spoke, but he said it was possible that the wind could blow west overnight toward Anaheim. If that turns out to be the case, Wyatt said, the goal was to hold the flames at the 241.
Los Angeles County sent a night-flying Firehawk helicopter to continue dropping water on the fire overnight.
Evacuations, road closures
About 6 p.m. Monday, after the wildfire had begun moving downhill toward a Corona neighborhood and some residents began packing up and leaving voluntarily, an evacuation order was issued for about 300 homes.
The order was then significantly expanded to cover everything south of Green River Road along a 5-mile stretch from the 91 Freeway to Trudy Way, including the Orchard Glen development, the Corona Fire Department said.
An evacuation center was set up in the gymnasium of Corona High School at 1150 W. 10th St. Authorities said animal control officials would be there to help people with pets.
Four schools will be closed Tuesday: John Adams Elementary School, Cesar Chavez Academy, Coronita Elementary School and Prado View Elementary School. All other schools, including Corona High, will be open but “will be on inclement weather schedule due to poor air quality,” the Corona-Norco Unified School District said in a Facebook post.
Officials said these roads were closed to inbound traffic: Dominguez Ranch Road, Nicholas Place, Canyon Crest Drive, Boulder Drive, Suncrest Drive, Ridgeline Drive south of Green River Road, Serfas Club Drive south of Green River Road, Montana Ranch Road, Del Mar Way and Trudy Way.
Two lanes of the eastbound 91 closed after the fire started; one reopened and then closed again sporadically into the night. The closures caused miles-long backups even before the evening commute began, and drivers seeking to avoid the 91 spread the traffic jams to surrounding freeways.
Tolling was suspended on the 91 Express Lanes on Monday evening, said John Standiford, deputy executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission.
Fire continued burning actively at the edge of the freeway late Monday.
‘It was unreal’
The air in the evacuation zone was thick with acrid smoke, and silent except for the sounds of passing police cars and overhead aircraft. Corona police were driving through the area using loudspeakers telling residents: “Evacuate now.”
At one house on San Almada Road, a man and a woman ran to their car with armloads of possessions.
Next door, Nick Chavez had packed his son, dog, dog food, computers, clothes and documents and was ready to flee as winds pushed flames his way. About a half dozen cars preceded him down the hill.
Chavez said he has lived there for 16 years and never seen flames this big or this close. “I’m hoping they can keep it at bay,” he said.
On nearby Mt. Elena Circle, residents were standing on top of two homes, spraying water on the roofs. Not far away, the flames were coming closer and closer over the hill.
San Alvarado Circle resident Jeff Peterson figured his home would be safe until the wind shifted — which changed everything.
He drove home Monday from Irvine on the 241 toll road. As he neared home about 2:45 p.m., the wind, which had been blowing toward the 241, changed course, sending “a giant wall of flames,” racing toward his backyard.
Peterson was watching the fire with Rick Krumes, who lives on a nearby street.
“We just looked at each other and said, ‘It’s time to go get the valuables,’” Peterson said.
He has lived on the street for 17 years and said he’d never seen flames approach.
“I never thought that we’d see it. It was unreal, watching this happen,” Peterson said. “The flames made so much noise, they sounded like jet engines.”
The fire was reported just before 1 p.m. off the eastbound side of the freeway in Coal Canyon in far eastern Anaheim, west of the Green River Road exit.
About two hours later, Anaheim Fire & Rescue officials said a wind shift had increased the fire activity on the fire’s right flank. That shift came as sea breezes from the southwest began to replace the mild Santa Ana winds that had been blowing from the northwest for most of the day, gusting up to about 25 mph in that area.
The flames soon burned down to firefighters’ incident command post on Coal Canyon Road just off the freeway. Fire officials tweeted that there were a “few tense moments but great work by the hand crews.”
Then about 4:45 p.m., the CHP log said the fire had progressed east to Star Ranch in Corona and was “currently out of control.”
That’s when the rapid fire growth took off. The fire went from 550 at 5:30 p.m. to 700-800 acres at 6 p.m. and 1,500 acres at 6:40 p.m.
The huge smoke plume was visible from as far as Angel Stadium.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for the Corona/Norco area an northern and central Orange County. Air quality was expected to be unhealthy in those areas because of the smoke.
“Winds (Monday night and Tuesday) morning are expected to be mainly from the northeast, potentially bringing smoke and ash toward the west into portions of the communities of Villa Park, Orange, Anaheim and Yorba Linda,” the advisory said.
The flames burned into a portion of Chino Hills State Park south of the 91 near Coal Canyon. That area of the park will remain closed until the fire is out, a park spokesman said.
No structures in the park were threatened, the spokesman said Monday afternoon. But he added, “Coal Canyon is a very ecologically sensitive habitat area. Damage to habitat will be assessed only after suppression activities are concluded.”
This story is developing. Check back for updates.
Staff writer Alma Fausto and staff photographer Watchara Phomicinda contributed to this report.