Two people were killed as a fast-moving wildfire swelled rapidly over parched vegetation in Southern California, forcing hundreds of residents to flee amid a severe heat wave that has enveloped the region.
The Fairview Fire ignited after 2 p.m. local time Monday and quickly scorched 2,000 acres, destroying at least seven structures and damaging several more near the city of Hemet in Riverside County, according to Cal Fire.
As of Tuesday evening, the fire has burned 4,500 acres and was 5% contained, according to a tweet from Cal Fire.
About 5,000 homes were under evacuation orders Monday evening as the fire slashed a path of destruction through the baked countryside. Evacuation orders and warnings were expanded eastward as the fire progressed on Tuesday, though it is not immediately clear how many more people or houses are impacted.
The blaze “was spreading very quickly, before firefighters even got on scene,” according to Cal Fire Captain Richard Cordova on Monday.
He said two people had died in the fire.
Another person was taken to a hospital with serious burns to their arms, back and face, according to CNN affiliate KCBS.
The victims were in a “one way in, one way out” area of a dangerous canyon with a lot of overgrown vegetation that hasn’t burned in decades, Cordova told the station.
Aerial footage showed several homes burning as flames encroached under a dense layer of smoke.
Schools were closed Tuesday in Hemet due to the fire and will remain shut Wednesday “until further notice,” the district said.
“Our hope is that our students can return to school soon; however, the closure will continue until conditions improve. We will update our families with additional information as it becomes available,” the Hemet Unified School District said.
A high temperature of 106 degrees was recorded Tuesday in Hemet, according to the National Weather Service. Daytime temperatures will be above 100 degrees Fahrenheit through Friday in Hemet, according to the forecast.
The Fairview Fire was one of several wildfires wreaking havoc over the holiday weekend in California, where fires have consumed thousands of acres in less than a week.
In Northern California’s Siskiyou County, two women, ages 66 and 73, died in the Mill Fire that swelled to 3935 acres and destroyed 108 structures as of Tuesday night.
Nearby, the Mountain Fire ignited on steep terrain and was 30% contained at 11,690 acres on Tuesday.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie told CNN on Sunday the prolonged drought conditions have created “extremely dangerous” conditions as the parched land holds “a huge amount of dead fuel.”
“All these fires now have receptive fuel beds to burn,” he said. “Now, when anything gets started it has that potential for exponential growth in a short period of time just because everything is so tinder dry.”
An extended record-setting heatwave in the West is also making conditions more dangerous, with California sizzling under triple-digit temperatures that have heightened the risk for wildfires.