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Southern California wildfire burns 1,000 acres; hundreds evacuated

by Jonah Valdez, Southern California Media Group |

A fast-moving fire in Riverside County exploded to nearly 1,000 acres within five hours and has forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in the city of Murrieta.

At least 400 homes are under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders, and schools in the Murrieta Valley district are closed Thursday. The area is 40 miles southeast of Santa Ana.

The Tenaja Fire was reported just before 4 p.m. Wednesday. It had scorched 994 acres and was 5 percent contained by 9 p.m., the Riverside County Fire Department said. No structures had burned. The smoke was seen as far away as Orange and San Diego counties.

Cal Fire/Riverside said 44 engine crews and other crews, numbering some 500 personnel, were sent to the location and encountered flames in heavy vegetation, spreading to the north. Six Cal Fire air tankers and three water-dropping helicopters made runs on the blaze, but pulled out by 8 p.m. due to poor visibility.

The Cleveland and San Bernardino national forests as well as the Bureau of Land Management were sending crews and equipment as well.

The fire started near the intersection of Tenaja Road and Clinton Keith Road and was reported at 3:56 p.m., said Rob Roseen, spokesman for Cal Fire. He said the fire was burning in area with heavy fuels with a rapid rate of spread. Temperatures in the area topped out at 101 degrees Wednesday before falling to the 80s in the evening, National Weather Service data showed.

Firefighters were dealing with capricious winds of about 20 mph, Roseen said shortly after the fire started.