Tenaja Fire chars 1,926 acres in La Cresta and Murrieta

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Flames burn vegetation along Clinton Keith Road near the Santa Rosa Plateau during the Tenaja Fire, Sept. 4. Shane Gibson photo

A wildfire that broke out just before 4 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 4, was fully contained earlier this week but not before charring 1,926 acres.

The Tenaja Fire ripped through the La Cresta area, burning parts of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, threatening homes and causing evacuations of hundreds of homes, according to fire officials.

Originally reported as 2,000 acres, the fire’s size was revised downward Saturday due to better mapping, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

Due to the location of the fire, firefighters were hampered by difficult terrain while battling the blaze, Cal Fire Division Chief Todd Hopkins said during a Thursday afternoon news conference

“We have a difficult terrain to access the fire,” Hopkins said. “Winds will come out of one direction in the morning wind blowing out toward the ocean and by the afternoon we’ll get a 180-degree switch. That’s what we’ve seen for the past two days.”

Hopkins said firefighters call it the “Elsinore Effect.”

After the blaze was initially reported, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for all residences along The Trails Circle, in La Cresta and for the Santa Rosa Plateau Visitor Center located at 39400 Clinton Keith Road. Additional evacuations were ordered Thursday, Sept. 5, for Montanya Place, Bonita Place, Belcara Place and Lone Oak Way in the city of Murrieta as well as for homes in Copper Canyon, south of Calle del Oso Oro between Clinton Keith and Murrieta Creek. More than 1,200 homes were threatened during the height of the fire.

A care and reception center for evacuees, along with small pets, was established at Murrieta Mesa High School. The San Jacinto Animal Shelter accepted large animals while horse trailers were allowed at Los Alamos Sports Park in Murrieta.

Road closures were issued for Clinton Keith Road from Chantory Street to Avenida La Cresta, Avenida La Cresta South, Tenaja Road, The Trails Circle, Via Volcano, Montanya Place, Botanica Place, Belcara Place and Lone Oak Way in the city of Murrieta.

All evacuation orders and road closures were lifted by Saturday, Sept. 7.

According to Ginger Greaves, executive director of the Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Education Foundation, though the fire came close, the Santa Rosa Plateau’s Visitor’s Center remains undamaged from the blaze.

“The stage behind the visitor center was burnt, but the visitor center is safe and it will be closed until further notice,” she said. “It appears the fire around the visitor center and that area and Clinton Keith is not burning at this time.”

Nearly 840 firefighters from Riverside County, Cal Fire, Murrieta Fire and Rescue, the Hemet Fire Department, Corona Fire Department, the Orange County Fire Authority and U.S. Forest Service battled the blaze. Three firefighters suffered non-life-threatening injuries and two homes sustained minor damage, according to Hopkins.

“Crews have been doing an excellent job getting into difficult areas and stopping the flames before they damage structures,” Hopkins said.

Murrieta police Chief Sean Hadden said 570 properties in the city were evacuated at one point and all schools in the Murrieta Valley, Lake Elsinore, Menifee Union and Romoland Unified school districts were closed because of the impact of the fire. Classes resumed Monday, Sept. 9.

The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve and Sylvan Meadows were expected to be closed for some time and all trails were closed due to safety hazards from the fire, officials said.

Power lines were reported down at the location.

The Riverside County department of public health issued an air quality advisory, warning residents north and east of the Tenaja blaze that fire debris could have negative health impacts.

Jeff Pack and City News Service contributed to this story.

Kim Harris can be reached by email at valleyeditor@reedermedia.com.