Thousands of Californians Evacuate as Apple Fire Burns Through More Than 26,000 Acres

More than 2,000 firefighters are battling the fire which is burning through parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties

Apple fire
Firefighters work to contain California blaze. Photo: Ringo H W Chiu/AP/Shutterstock

Thousands of firefighters are working to contain a blaze that has scorched through the mountains of two Southern California counties.

Over the weekend, the Apple Fire has burned over 26,000 acres of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The blaze, located about two hours from Downtown Los Angeles, is only 5 percent contained as of Monday afternoon, the department said.

"We've got extremely steep, rugged terrain," Lisa Cox, the fire information officer for the San Bernardino National Forest, told CNN of battling the fire. "We have many different drainages that are all kind of intersecting together and that creates these funneling effects of different wind patterns and creates more erratic fire behavior."

"And with that, we have very thick brush including this really flammable ecosystem called chaparral that likes to burn and it hasn't burned here in a long time," she explained.

Apple fire
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock

The combination of high temperatures and strong winds has also given firefighters added difficulty, Cox told CNN.

"It actually creates this updraft of smoke ash and flame and it creates this huge cloud and it has a downdraft that actually spreads out in all 360 directions around the fire," she added.

The fire initially erupted on Friday afternoon and burned the Cherry Valley and Banning areas, as well as the San Bernardino National Forest, CBS News reported.

Nearly 8,000 people have been evacuated from both Riverside and San Bernardino counties, KNBC reported.

On Sunday, the National Weather Service shared a tweet showing a large plume of smoke traveling from California to Phoenix, Arizona (can be seen near the middle of the right side of the picture):

"It was just like a really small cloud, and I saw a really big cloud of smoke. It's like a hundred times bigger than it was ... and that's what scared me," local resident Luis Gomez told CBS News. "I got all jittery and I was afraid for my mom and my nephew."

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According to a Cal Fire news release, authorities believe the blaze could have been started from a vehicle malfunction, "specifically, a diesel-fueled vehicle emitting burning carbon from the exhaust system."

"The determination is reinforced by multiple independent witnesses, as well as supporting physical evidence," Cal Fire said. "Officers are seeking information from anyone that may have seen vehicle which appeared to have mechanical problems, or unusually smoke emitting from it."

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