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Officials: California blaze was sparked by malfunctioning diesel vehicle

by The Associated Press |

The Apple Fire in mountains east of Los Angeles that has forced thousands of people from their homes was sparked by a malfunctioning diesel vehicle, fire officials said Monday.

The vehicle spewed burning carbon from its exhaust system, igniting several fires Friday and authorities were asking anyone who may have seen such a vehicle at the time to contact investigators, according to a statement from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The blaze in Riverside County, among several wildfires across California, had consumed nearly 42 square miles of dry brush and chaparral since it broke out Friday evening, fire officials said.

As of Monday night, it was just 7 percent contained and the fire along with coronavirus precautions made for added stress at an evacuation center, said John Medina, an American Red Cross spokesman.

The blaze began as two adjacent fires in a rural area near the city of Beaumont, about 85 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

Flames raced along brushy ridge tops and came close to houses while firefighters attacked from the ground and air. By nightfall, the flames were burning into the San Gorgonio Wilderness, where the brush was becoming sparse and limited the fire’s intensity, according to Zach Behrens, a spokesman for the San Bernardino national forest.

Five buildings had been destroyed, including at least one home, authorities said. One firefighter was treated for an injury and returned to work.

Evacuation orders and advisories were issued for about 2,500 homes in mountain, canyon and foothill neighborhoods. Campgrounds and hiking trails were closed in the San Gorgonio wilderness area of the San Bernardino National Forest.

A smoke plume was visible for miles around and contributed to poor air quality.

Firefighters fought the blaze in scorching weather. The temperature hit 111 degrees Monday in nearby Palm Springs.

In Northern California, evacuations were ordered after a wildfire that sparked Sunday afternoon spread quickly and burned near homes near the East Park reservoir in Colusa County. Complicating firefighters’ efforts were temperatures in the area north of Sacramento climbed to 98 degrees by Monday afternoon. The fire was 40 percent contained.

On California’s central coast, a fire in San Luis Obispo County was 60 percent contained Monday after burning more than 2 square miles of brush east of the community of Santa Margarita. Two structures were destroyed but officials said it was unclear whether they were homes.