Santiago Canyon Fire Moving Towards Riverside

From the Orange County Register Fire Central

Santiago Fire grew to 22,000 acres Wednesday night, while containment of the flames shrank from 50 percent to 30 percent. Fire officials blame the difficult terrain.
The Orange County Register

Shifting winds, hot weather and dry brush are continuing to fan the flames of the Santiago fire and produce “very active fire behavior,” according to Angela Luedtke, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Fire Authority.

Luedtke said the fire, which grew to 22,000 acres Wednesday night, has entered the Cleveland National Forest. Fire officials predicted the flames would march into Riverside County within the next 24 hours.

Luedtke said the U.S. Forest Service was now part of the Orange County fire response, along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

Containment of the fire shrank from 50 percent Wednesday afternoon to 30 percent Wednesday night.

The flames are now racing in two directions: south to Williams Canyon and Hamilton Truck roads and northeast into the forest.

The Fire Authority also upped the numbers of homes destroyed from nine to 14, with eight more homes damaged by the fire.

Luedtke blamed the spreading blaze on “changing wind patterns, critical fire weather, and problematic fuel and topographic conditions,” which she said accounted for the fires “rapid rate of spread.”

Despite a slowdown in gusting Santa Ana winds on Wednesday, temperatures remained in the high 80s and humidity in the single-digits.

OCFA Batt. Chief Kris Concepcion said that even though winds had died down, they tended to be more erratic in canyon areas, pushing the flames forward.

The Fire Authority reported that the number of personnel on the ground grew dramatically Wednesday, from 600 to 1,060.

Concepcion said resources were slowly arriving from around the state, “but we could always use more.”

The number of air support craft remained the same: four helicopters and four tankers.

Luedtke said “continued air support will be critical,” in fighting the fire.

The fire’s growth underscored how hard it has been for firefighters to get a handle on a fire drama that is being played out in some of Orange County’s most difficult terrain. Steep canyons, few roads and limited air support have forced firefighters to tread a cautious perimeter around the flames.

“It’s tough terrain,” said Concepcion. “It’s moving into areas that are more inaccessible.”

With limited air support, firefighters are forced to hike in on foot and be more cautious in plotting an escape route.

He said that the drop in containment, “while a little discouraging,” was not unusual.

“It’s not atypical in wildfires of this magnitude for containment to go up and down,” Concepcion said.

With its entry in the Cleveland National Forest, the fire was now a “campaign fire,” Concepcion said.

“It’s a long-term fire,” he said. “Based on the numbers we’re going to be here the rest of the week.

Even then, “It’s going to take us a while to mop it up and be very sure we got it all.”