Rain generated by the remnants of Hurricane Kay helped firefighters slow the spread of the deadly Fairview Fire near Hemet Friday.
The assist from the weather allowed authorities to reach 40% containment of the blaze, burning southeast of Hemet. By 8 p.m. Friday, officials said the fire had grown to 28,307 acres.
They also began to allow some residents to return to their homes, as they reduced a selection of evacuation orders from mandatory to voluntary.
They did so with a firm warning, however. The “much-needed precipitation,” officials said, combined with high winds and heat may also lead to unpredictable fire behavior. They urged residents returning to their homes “to remain alert during this dynamic incident.”
The onset of stormy weather prompted incident commanders to pull Cal Fire aircraft out of the firefighting operation late Friday morning, according to reports from the scene.
The National Weather Service had issued a flood watch and a high wind warning for the area, with authorities saying up to 7 inches of rain could fall before the storms dissipate, raising the likelihood of flash floods, mud and debris flows.
The inclement weather was due to Hurricane Kay, reduced to a tropical storm as it moved north from the Baja peninsula in Mexico.
The weather service predicted gusts of 55 mph in the valleys and 75 mph in the mountains and deserts.
Cal Fire officials have said they hope to have the fire contained by early next week, an objective that appeared more feasible with the arrival of the rain.
Late Friday afternoon, with the pace of the fire slowing, fire officials reduced mandatory evacuation orders to voluntary warnings for the area south of Diamond Valley Lake, east of Washington Street, north of Borel Road, east of Rancho California Road, east of Anza Road north of Temecula Parkway, northwest of Highway 371 and west of Highway 74.
Evacuation orders also were made voluntary for the Ramona Village community and Olivet University.
Highway 74 in the San Bernardino National Forest remained fully closed between Mountain Center and Borco Street, which is in Valle Vista.
The Fairview Fire was reported shortly after 2 p.m. Monday on Fairview Avenue and Bautista Road.
The fire caused two deaths after flames overcame a vehicle on Avery Canyon Road in East Hemet Monday. Friends have identified the victims as Ian Compton and his autistic daughter Mikayla Porter. Compton’s wife, Tina, suffered severe burns and remains hospitalized, though she is expected to survive.
At least seven buildings have been destroyed and several more damaged.
– City News Service