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Fairview fire near Hemet that killed 2 grows to 2,400 acres

Southern California Edison reported “circuit activity” about the same time the first flames from a wildfire near Hemet were reported, the utility company said of the area where a fast-moving blaze has killed two people, injured one and burned at least seven structures.

It’s unclear what the circuit activity was or whether Edison’s equipment played a role in starting the fire. Edison reported the incident Monday evening with the Public Utilities Commission as the Fairview fire quickly spread. Fire officials on Tuesday said the fire has burned 4,000 acres.

“Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by the Fairview fire, especially those who have lost loved ones and suffered injuries,” said David Eisenhauer, a spokesperson for Edison. “Our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire.”

Eisenhauer declined to elaborate on what the activity was.

“With safety as our No. 1 priority, we continue to make progress on our wildfire mitigation efforts through grid hardening, situational awareness and enhanced operational practices,” he said.

A Cal Fire spokesperson said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. The agency will take Edison’s report into account.

Evacuation orders and a warning remained in place Tuesday, the Riverside County Fire Department said.

The Fairview fire, which ignited around 3 pm on Monday, had grown from 2,400 acres Tuesday morning to 4,000 acres by 3 pm Evacuation orders were expanded because of the fire activity; the blaze was 5% contained.

Winds pushed the fire west into Avery Canyon on Monday, a surprising development for firefighters who said flames burned in the opposite direction from what fire models and history predicted. Instead, high pressure in the area had winds sweeping the canyon from the east, pushing flames west into the canyon and quickly reaching three residents who were trying to escape the coming flames.

The two people who died appeared to be attempting to flee before being overcome by the fire as it tore through the canyon, officials said. It is unclear whether the third person, who officials said was in the same area, was related to the two victims or was from the same household. No other fatalities or injuries were reported Tuesday morning.

Details on why the residents were unable to escape were unclear, and sheriff’s officials said the burn area was still too hot Tuesday for investigators to comb through the scene to find out what happened.

According to the Riverside County Fire Department, at least seven structures were destroyed and several more sustained damage. Officials estimate that about 3,500 structures remain threatened by the fire.

Officials said the fire’s atypical burn pattern was a major concern, but forecasting showed the wind was expected to reverse 180 degrees on Tuesday, essentially leading the fire to backtrack in the opposite direction.

Fire teams are attacking the fire from both the ground and the air on Tuesday, including using several air tankers and helicopters to contain the blaze. Officials did not predict any weather that would threaten an air response.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Josh Janssen, incident commander for the fire overnight, said fire officials have been able to get additional resources to fight the fire. According to Cal Fire, 285 firefighters were on the ground, including 38 engine companies and one water tender.

California is experiencing its most severe heat wave this year, leading to elevated fire risks because of the high temperatures, low humidity and severely dry vegetation. Scorching temperatures, with some areas hitting triple digits and breaking records, are expected to last through Thursday and have raised concerns over public health and power outages. State officials called for a Flex Alert on Tuesday.

Temperatures were expected to hit 107 degrees in Hemet on Tuesday, with wind gusts up to 20 miles per hour.

Sgt. Brandi Swan with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said that schools in Hemet Unified School District remain closed because of the fire. Officials also reported that unrelated weather caused a power outage in Hemet.

About 3,500 homes were under evacuation orders Tuesday for the area south of Stetson Avenue, north of Cactus Valley Road, west of Bautista Canyon and east of State Street. Officials also reported additional road closures in the area.

By Tuesday afternoon, officials had expanded evacuation orders to include Bautista Canyon Road between Stetson Road and Two Streams trailhead. The area had been previously under a warning, but residents were asked to leave the area by 2:30 pm

It was unclear when evacuation orders would be lifted, or if residents could return to their homes.

The fire also prompted the Eastern Municipal Water District to issue a boil water notice to some of the residents in the area. According to the agency, the notice affects about 50 homes east of Hemet along Polly Butte Road and east of Gibbel Road.

Residents in that area were advised not to drink or use tap water for cooking unless it was boiled for at least one minute to avoid stomach and intestinal illness.

At sunset Monday, flames raged through the hills above houses as columns of smoke billowed into the sky, reaching the Orange County coast. The fire consumed cars and blackened trees. Television news reports showed aerial shots of structures engulfed in shooting flames.

Some of the homes in the area could be reached on dirt roads, fire officials said. Residents on Twitter noted that many in the area keep horses, complicating evacuations.

Around the same time and about 75 miles north, the Radford fire ignited just west of Sugarloaf near Big Bear Lake. By Tuesday morning, the fire had expanded to 330 acres.

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