Apple Fire 50% contained, but it's the second-largest blaze in the region this decade

Colin Atagi Palm Springs Desert SunPublished 12:55 AM EDT Aug 11, 2020About 3,400 acres are all that sepa

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About 3,400 acres are all that separate the Apple Fire from being the largest wildfire in Riverside and San Bernardino counties in more than a decade.

The fire has scorched 32,905 acres as of Monday night with 50% of its perimeter contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It falls just behind the August 2016 Blue Cut Fire, which burned 36,274 acres near the Cajon Pass and was region's largest fire over the past 10 years.

As of Monday afternoon, all evacuation warnings in Riverside County and San Bernardino County had been lifted, including Morongo Valley.

Crews made progress on Monday cooling hot spots as the fire continued to burn out. Helicopters aided from the air with water drops in areas where crews couldn't patrol. By evening, the fire was 50% contained, up from 45% earlier in the day.

By Monday night, crews were continuing to monitor weather activity, with gusty winds exceeding 45 MPH expected into Tuesday morning that could test the control lines around the fire. 

The amount of personnel working the fire had decreased as they got better control. On Monday, about 1,700 people, compared to almost 2,700 who were fighting the blaze on Thursday, when the fire was still 30% contained.

The Apple Fire remains far from being the region's largest fire of the 21st century, however. It is only half the size of the July 2006 Sawtooth Complex Fire, which charred about 70,000 acres in the high desert. And it is still smaller than the  Esperanza Fire in October 2006, which was caused by an arsonist. That blaze scorched more than 40,000 acres in the San Jacinto Mountains and killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters.

Conditions for firefighters battling the Apple Fire were looking favorable, but U.S. Forest Service officials wouldn't say whether they expected the blaze to increase significantly in size.

"At this point, fire is unpredictable. It's looking good right now, but as you know, things can change at a moment's notice," said Brandi Stewart, an incident management team public information officer. "The management objective is really keeping the fire within existing control lines."

Investigators say a diesel-fueled vehicle "emitting burning carbon from the exhaust system" ignited the Apple Fire on July 31 in Oak Valley.

Three firefighters had suffered minor injuries and four homes had bee destroyed as of Sunday. Fire officials estimeate the Apple Fire may be contained by Aug. 17.

The Blue Cut Fire started Aug. 16, 2016, and burned for about a week. By the time it was contained, it had wiped out 105 homes and 216 outbuildings.

Most damage occurred in the first two days of the fire as flames spread through remote, sparsely populated mountain and canyon areas full of extremely dry brush.

Other large wildfires include:

  • The  Mountain Fire, which started July 15, 2013, near Highways 74 and 243 in Mountain Center and burned 27,531 acres. Electrical equipment failure on private property caused the fire, officials said.
  • The Lake Fire, which burned about 31,000 acres near Big Bear in the San Bernardino National Forest in June 2015.
  • The Cranston Fire, which began July 26, 2018, near Hemet and burned 13,139 acres near Idyllwild and Mountain Center. In February 2019, Temecula resident Brandon McGlover pleaded guilty to two counts of arson and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
  • The Holy Fire, which ignited Aug. 6, 2018, in the Cleveland National Forest and burned 23,136 acres in Riverside and Orange counties. 

The Coachella Valley sky was mostly clear Sunday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Moede said high temperatures in the lower elevations of the burn area should be between 98 and 104 degrees Tuesday with winds moving 10 to 20 mph with 30-mph gusts.

"The weather will be good for attacking the fire," Moede said.

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