Canyon Fire forces school closures, evacuations lifted for some

Smoke from the Canyon Fire rises above the mountains along Highway 60. Karina Ramos Young photo
Smoke and flames from the Canyon Fire rises above the mountains along the 91 Freeway. Karina Ramos Young photo

CORONA – With containment at only 15 percent, fire officials say they’re confident today of expanding the encirclement of the wind-fanned Canyon Fire, which has scorched some 2,000 acres around the Orange-Riverside county border, prompting the evacuation of around 1,500 people from about 500 Riverside County homes.

The blaze broke out about 1 p.m. Monday alongside the eastbound Riverside (91) Freeway, just west of Green River Road in west Corona, and initially spread at a “moderate” rate to Coal Canyon Road off the freeway, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi.

The fire began spreading at a “rapid rate” around 3 p.m. Monday, fanned by Santa Ana winds blowing at 20 to 25 mph. By Monday night, it had charred about 2,000 acres, damaged a single-family home and a big rig and was only 5 percent contained, Concialdi said.

As of early this morning, containment was at 15 percent, and, amid repeated water drops, the fire did not appear to have spread. Battling the blaze were about 1,600 firefighters from the Anaheim, Corona and Los Angeles County fire departments, the OCFA, U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire.

Firefighters battled the blaze amid highs in the 90s Tuesday. Today’s highs will be only slightly lower.

Fire crews confirmed that one house was damaged by the flames, although the extent was not immediately known. It was unclear if any of the other roughly 500 homes that were threatened Monday suffered any damage.

“When we talk about 500 homes that were threatened, it takes time for assessment teams to go out there to see if any homes were damaged,” Concialdi said. “But we know of one that has been confirmed that has been damaged. No homes have been destroyed.”

A Corona police officer directing traffic was injured by a hit-and-run driver about 8:30 p.m. Monday at Green River Road and Montana Ranch Road, according to Corona police Detective Andy Bryant.

David Shaheen, 53, of Corona, was booked on suspicion of felony hit-and-run for allegedly driving around traffic control barriers at the intersection and hitting the patrol officer, Bryant said. The officer was taken to a hospital, treated and released, Bryant said.

“Fortunately for him he was wearing his helmet because he hit his head on the ground,” Bryant said.

Shaheen posted bail and was released, Bryant said.

Mandatory evacuations remained in effect for 500 homes, affecting about 1,500 residents in the Dominguez Ranch area of Corona, Concialdi said. It was unclear how long the evacuation would remain in effect.

The evacuations were ordered on Dominguez Ranch Road, San Almada Road, San Ponte Road, San Viscaya Circle, San Sebastian Circle, San Ramon Drive, San Alvarado Road, Mount Elena Circle, Mount Tesoro, Mount Palmas and Mount Cantara Circle, according to the Corona Fire Department.

Evacuations also remained in effect on the south side of Green River Road, from the Riverside Freeway to Trudy Way, according to the Corona Fire Department. An evacuation shelter was set up in the gymnasium at Corona High School.

The Corona Norco Unified School District canceled classes at seven schools today — Coronita Elementary School, John Adams Elementary School, Cesar Chavez Academy, Prado View Elementary School, Eisenhower Elementary School, Citrus Hills Intermediate School and Franklin Elementary School – due to evacuations, road closures and poor air quality. All other district schools were open, including Corona High School, where an evacuation center was opened, but were on an inclement weather schedule due to poor air quality, officials said.

“The current school closures are schools that are closest to the active fire and are near the mountain ridge,” said district officials in a statement. “The closed schools are also the schools that would be most affected by road closures and have a higher risk of evacuation.”

Several lanes on the eastbound Riverside Freeway at Coal Canyon Road were initially closed to make room for firefighting equipment, backing up traffic for miles, the California Highway Patrol reported.

As of Tuesday night, the eastbound No. 5 lane remained closed from Coal Canyon Road to Green River Road, including the Green River Road off-ramp. Northbound Black Star Canyon at Silverado Canyon Drive in Orange County also was closed, as well as Coal Canyon Road at Gypsum Canyon Road.

For many commuting from the Inland Empire to Orange County, the Riverside Freeway is the only access point, said CHP Officer Florentino Olivera. “But we’re asking the public, if possible, to avoid the eastbound 91.”

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