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Fast-moving wildfire expands rapidly in California's Cleveland National Forest

by Christian Martinez and Hannah Fry, Los Angeles Times |

Firefighters are working to gain the upper hand on a fast-moving wildfire that broke out Wednesday in the Cleveland National Forest.

The blaze was first reported at 10 acres around 11:20 a.m. near the Holy Jim Trail in Orange County. Within three hours, the fire had swelled to 400 acres.

But crews on the ground laying down containment lines and an aerial attack that included aircraft releasing fire retardant and helicopters dropping water helped stop much of the blaze’s forward momentum in the early evening, said Nathan Judy, Cleveland National Forest’s public affairs officer.

The fire had charred 500 acres and had no containment as of 7 p.m. Nearly 100 personnel were fighting the blaze in steep terrain, officials said.

“The fire has really laid down and the forward rate of spread has stopped,” Judy said Wednesday evening. “We’ll have crews working throughout the night monitoring and constructing containment line.”

The fire began at the bottom of a drainage area along the canyon and ran uphill, prompting its rapid spread, Judy said, adding that the cause of the blaze was still under investigation.

The fire encroached on the Holy fire burn scar, which helped slow the spread, he said.

The Holy Jim hiking area had been closed for rehabilitation following the 2018 Holy fire, which burned more than 20,000 acres.

The fire was not threatening any structures Wednesday afternoon, although some communication towers were in its path, Judy said.

“It would take a wind shift to put it into populated areas,” he said. The Orange County Fire Authority, which was helping with the blaze, said it was not a threat to Orange County homes.

Fire crews faced little wind and could be assisted by cooler temperatures Thursday and possible rain Friday.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District said the fire had not affected air quality in the region.