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California's Apple Fire scorches 26,000 acres and is 7% contained; smoke seen as far as Arizona

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/4/2020 Colin Atagi, Amanda Ulrich and Nicole Hayden, Palm Springs Desert Sun
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — More than 2,000 firefighters and multiple aircraft battled the Apple Fire about 85 miles east of Los Angeles as it spread to more than 26,000 acres, sent smoke drifting to Arizona and threatened thousands of homes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. 

The blaze, centered near the town of Beaumont, began Friday evening as two smaller fires that eventually merged. The fire has been fed by low humidity, a slight breeze, thick vegetation and triple-digit temperatures.

The fire had scorched nearly 42 square miles, destroyed three structures and was only 7% contained on Monday. The U.S. Forest Service said the blaze was being battled by 2,296 firefighters and support personnel, including 32 hand-crews, 275 fire engines and 24 bulldozers. Multiple helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were dropping water and fire retardant.

a car parked on the side of a mountain: A charred car sits abandoned in Cherry Valley, Calif. after the Apple Fire scorched the hills on Sunday, August 2, 2020. © Vickie Connor/The Desert Sun A charred car sits abandoned in Cherry Valley, Calif. after the Apple Fire scorched the hills on Sunday, August 2, 2020.

About 7,800 people from 2,600 residences had been ordered to evacuate. No injuries had been reported as of midday Sunday.

Further north, a fire near Reno, Nevada, also burned out of control on Monday. The North Fire, in Nevada near the California border, was at 6,300 acres with 10% containment, and evacuations remained in effect, according to Truckee Meadows Fire & Rescue.

The leading edge of smoke from the Apple Fire has pushed as far as the city of Globe, Arizona, roughly 400 miles away, according to the National Weather Service's Phoenix office. The main body of smoke was visible across south-central and southwest regions of the state. 

Riverside County fire officials said the conflagration was caused by accident — a diesel vehicle that emitted burning carbon from its exhaust pipe.

Cal Fire Capt. Fernando Herrera said the fire was burning on two sides. The western edge was in the Forest Falls area in San Bernardino County, and the eastern flank was headed toward the Morongo Band of Mission Indians' reservation in Riverside County.

"It is steep terrain, rugged terrain," he said. "Access is limited. We can't really get to it on foot. We rely a lot on the aircraft to do the work during the day."

The only structures lost in the fire have been a single-family home and two outbuildings near Avenida Miravilla in Cherry Valley, officials said Saturday. Herrera said an assessment team would be looking for any other damaged structures where the fire had burned.

"It's so hot and it's so intense in some of these areas that haven't been mopped up that it's hard to get in to make an assessment," he said. 

All ongoing evacuations orders remain in effect Monday.

Among those who had to flee were Rick and Rose Stewart, who live on Avenida Miravilla in Cherry Valley. Rose Stewart, 65, was home with her three granddaughters, ages 1, 4 and 8, when flames appeared in the canyon surrounding their home.

“Boy, the wind picked up and it moved,” she said. “At that moment, I was worried about the girls because they were really scared. They were like ‘I want to go home, I want to go home.’”

Their father soon arrived to pick them up. The canyon filled with flames and the heat destroyed a palm tree and fruits and vegetables in their backyard garden.

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As flames approached, Rick Stewart, 67, hosed down his home from his backyard.

He soon turned the hose onto himself as fled his yard as the fire moved his way.

“I was terrified. You have no idea the amount of heat that came off that. Literally burning your face,” he said.

Stewart said he and his son joined firefighters who had gathered in a clearing near the home. Rose Stewart left, but Rick Stewart was determined to watch his home if it had to burn down.

The home survived: The Stewarts attribute that to a fire break they installed around their home as a precaution after years of surviving fires in the area.

The Apple Fire broke out amid an extended heat wave across the Inland Empire and in the Coachella Valley.

"Heat always makes a difference, as does wind and low humidity," said Battalion Chief Tim Adams of Anaheim Fire and Rescue. 

Contributing: Chris Woodyard and Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; Maria Sestito and Brian Blueskye, Desert Sun; and City News Service.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: California's Apple Fire scorches 26,000 acres and is 7% contained; smoke seen as far as Arizona


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