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More Evacuations Ordered in Tenaja Fire, Schools Closed

Hundreds of residents were forced to evacuated as a 2,000-acre brush fire that was possibly started by a lightning strike burned in the rugged hills of southwest Riverside County, threatening homes and casting thick smoke over the region. 

More evacuations in the city of Murrieta were ordered Thursday afternoon, as the blaze remained 10% contained. 

The Tenaja Fire started Wednesday afternoon near Murrieta. As of 7:45 p.m. the fire was approximately 250 and exploded to nearly 1,000 acres later Wednesday night. It appeared to be burning toward an old burn scar, which might starve the flames of fuel, according to a battalion chief.  

The fire’s eerie glow above the community of La Cresta alarmed residents whose homes area near the fire. 

“I was afraid to go to sleep because you just never know what the wind is going to do,” said resident Elisa Decristo.

Winds decreased overnight, aiding the firefight.

Six air tankers and three water-dropping helicopters attacked the blaze, but pulled out by 8 p.m. due to poor visibility. 

“We expect the same type of weather than we did yesterday, so we’ll have this monsoonal thunderstorms lingering around with the potential of dry lightning,” said Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire Capt. Fernando Herrera. “There are still wind gusts up to 20 mph, but we’ll expect humidities will be about 35 percent, and maximum temperature reaching at 100.”

No injuries have been reported. 

The fire burned close to homes and generated thick smoke that wafted over neighborhoods, forcing some residents to evacuate. 

“It was pretty scary at first,” said resident Michelle Bueno. “The kids were freaking out a little bit, but tried to stay calm for them.”

A thunderstorm moved through the area before the fire, which might have been started by a lightning strike. No official cause has been determined. 

Firefighters couldn’t save a big portion of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.

Flames have destroyed part of the historic plateau’s roughly 8,400 acres of land which is normally filled with wild animals and covered in miles of beautiful hiking trails.


  • Montanya Place, Botanica Place, Belcara Place and Lone Oak Way in the city of Murrieta.
  • All residences along The Trail Circle in La Cresta
  • Copper Canyon South of Calle del Oso Oro between Clinton Keith and Murrieta Creek
  • Santa Rosa Plateau Visitor Center located at 39400 Clinton Keith Road
  • Road closure at Clinton Keith south of Avenida La Cresta, Avenida La Cresta South, Tenaja Road and Via Volcano
  • A care and reception facility has been established at Murrieta High School located at 24801 Monroe Ave, Murrieta
  • Small animals were being accepted at the care and reception center, located at Murrieta Mesa High School. 
  • Large Animals can be taken to the San Jacinto Animal Shelter 581 S. Grand Ave. San Jacinto, CA 92582

All Murrieta Valley Unified School District schools will be closed Thursday, the district told parents Wednesday night, after consulting with fire officials and police.

Murrieta Unified schools were to close Friday as well, and reopen Monday.

All Romoland School District schools and Santa Rosa Academy were closed Friday as well.

Health officials warned residents about the dangers of smoke and ash from the fire, urging residents to limit outdoor activities because of smoke.

“Ash and smoke can be hard on anyone to breathe, but especially those with lung disease,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County public health officer, in a news release. “Everyone worries about the flames, but smoke can impact you even if you’re miles away from the fire.”

Below is a photo of the smoke from the fire as seen from NBCLA’s First Alert Radar Network Wednesday evening.

So far, Southern California has been spared the large wildfires that devastated the state last year, when the largest, most destructive and deadliest fires on record burned in California. Above-average soil moisture, steady winter rains and high humidity are some of the reasons, along with onshore winds that help keep humidity in place.

Without dry brush that acts as fuel, fires can’t spread as quickly.

As of Sept. 1, CalFire reported 3,700 wildfires that have burned 28,100 acres across the state since the start of the year. Last year at this time, more than 4,200 fires had burned an astonishing 622,600 acres. The five-year average for the period is 4,196 fires and 269,443 acres.

NBC4’s Jonathan Lloyd and Heather Navarro contributed to this report. 

Photo Credit: Severin Burkart
Source: NBC San Diego

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