Holy fire containment increases to 5%; number of acres lowered to 3400

Officials overseeing the fight against the out-of-control Holy fire on the ridges between Orange and Riverside counties believe progress could be made Wednesday as temperatures drop slightly and humidity rises.

“Hopefully we can turn a corner” with higher humidity and slightly lower temperatures, into the mid-90s Wednesday, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Vickie Wright said.

The fire was 5 percent contained Tuesday night, up from 2 percent Tuesday morning. The acres burned were reported at 4,000 acres Monday night but downgraded to 3,399 Tuesday because of better mapping, the Cleveland National Forest said.

Helicopters were to drop water on the flames overnight Tuesday after voluntary evacuations — out of an abundance of caution — were ordered for communities in both counties.

“We’re just being safe,” Wright said. “Human life is our first and foremost priority. We don’t know what this fire will do.”

Wright described the brush in the fire area as “volatile” — very dry. Much of it had not burned in 40 years, she said, and was 3-4 feet high in places.

The goal for Wednesday is to prevent the fire from coming over the North Main Divide Road and into El Cariso Village in Riverside County, Wright said.

Holy Jim volunteer firefighter Luke Senger stands next to a home destroyed by fire on Monday, Aug 6, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Indian Truck Trail, Bedford, North Main and Maple Springs roads were closed, and the Holy Jim and Trabuco Canyon areas were evacuated, as well as the Blue Jay and El Cariso campgrounds.

By midday Tuesday,  Highway 74 west from Lookout Restaurant to Nichols Institute and all connecting roads in the communities of Rancho Capistrano, El Cariso Village and Blue Jay were under a voluntary evacuation warning.

Late Tuesday afternoon, voluntary evacuations were also announced for the Horsethief and Glen Eden communities. More information on evacuations is available at 951-736-1811.

A care and reception center was established in Riverside County at Temescal Canyon High School, 18760 El Torro Road, Lake Elsinore. An evacuation center was opened in Orange County at San Juan Hills High, 29211 Stallion Ridge, San Juan Capistrano.

Small animals may be evacuated to Animal Friends of the Valley at 22751 Mission Trail in Wildomar. The phone number there is 951-358-7387.

Thirteen cabins in the Trabuco Creek area burned Monday, authorities said. The cause of the blaze was being investigated.

Early Tuesday, a day after the fire sparked, it looked as if it had snowed at Holy Jim. The ash that blanketed the area was warm underfoot. Logs and tree trunks still smoldered.

The fallen cabins looked like ruins.

“My poor neighbors,” said Russ Price of San Juan Capistrano, who bought a cabin in October that “miraculously survived.”

“I can’t face them. It’s so sad,” he said.

MAP: Where the Holy fire is burning in Orange and Riverside counties

Crews were also working to keep flames from moving toward Ortega Highway, also known as Highway 74, officials said.

Roughly 380 firefighters were battling the Holy fire, which had burned brush, trees and some timber. The blaze coincided with another brutal heat wave blanketing Southern California. Temperatures soared near 100 degrees in parts of the region Tuesday.

On Monday, two firefighters were treated in local hospitals for heat-related injuries.

“First you stop sweating,” said Orange County Fire Authority Division Chief Mike Contreras, who has been a firefighter for 29 years. “Then you start to get a little dizzy. Then your muscles start to cramp. When it hits you, it hits you hard.”

Contreras, of Aliso Viejo, is the former wellness coordinator for the OCFA. He said there are only two ways to combat the heat in when you’re working a fire. First, you need to stay hydrated. And, you need to take cooling-off periods.

Contreras said he expects the firefighters to be working 12-hours on, 12-hours off shifts. They carry canteens, so they can stop for water.

“When you start to feel it,” Contreras said of the heat, “you better watch out.”

The crews were being aided by 10 helicopters and five air tankers.

Victor Caballero, who lives in the Laguna Estates community in north Lake Elsinore, said his bags were packed and he was ready for evacuation.

“This one has us a little nervous,” Caballero said. “The fire was at the top of the ridge, then it started to creep down the hill. We have our pictures and passports in boxes. Our tanks are full of gas just in case.”

Mamak Shakib and her husband, an Irvine couple, lost their nearly 100-year-old cabin in the fire. But they are thankful for what they have.

“It was rodent-infested, and it needed lots and lots of cleaning,” Shakib, 53, said with a chuckle. “I have never in my life washed the ceilings and walls of a place. That’s when I realized how great of shape I’m in.”

Nestled in the natural setting of Holy Jim Canyon, the cabin let the couple escape for a few days from their urban life in Irvine to a mountain retreat.

“I was able to spend a couple of nights there, and it was the best sleep I’ve ever had in my life,” she said.

Lyss Murphey, 62, Shakib’s husband and a volunteer firefighter for the mountain community, sent Shakib a message on Monday evening, Aug. 6, hours after  the Holy fire broke out near their cabin community: “The cabin is gone. I’m OK.” He included a video of their cabin, smoldering and burned to the ground.

Although it was a shock, Shakib, who is a chiropractor, said she is not sad about the loss: Memories of time spent at the place console her.

“I feel like I’m so blessed because I’m reminded of the important things in life. I can replace the cabin,” she explained. “I have the memories of working with my husband on it and renovating it and all the lessons we’ve learned during the process. That no fire can burn.”

Throughout the day, drifting smoke from the wildfire was affecting air quality in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where a smoke health risk advisory was issued.

The Holy fire was reported just after 1 p.m. Monday near Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Creek roads in the Cleveland National Forest and quickly spread, according to U.S. Forest Service authorities.

RELATED STORY: Holy fire spreads to 4,000 acres in Orange, Riverside counties


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