WINCHESTER: Vista Fire contained at 500 acres

22 Aug

Firefighters have fully contained a 500-acre wildfire burning near Diamond Valley Lake and expect full control by 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, according to Cal Fire officials.

Two firefighters have been taken to the hospital, though the extent of their injuries is not known, according to Cal Fire spokeswoman Jody Hagemann.

Crews are expected to be on the fire lines throughout the night.

The Vista Fire started around 11:45 a.m., according to a release from Cal Fire. By 1:40 p.m., it had spread to 250 acres. It topped 500 by 4 p.m. It was burning south of the lake and east of Washington Street in the Winchester area.

About 220 firefighters were battling the blaze in the Winchester area, according fire officials. A firefighter did suffer minor injuries.

No structures are threatened.

The blaze did prompt Diamond Valley Lake to close at 3:30 p.m., according to a post on the Lake’s Facebook page.

At one point, 28 fire engines, four tankers and four helicopters were battling the blaze.

Residents of the Rawson Heights community, an off-the-grid enclave that relies on generators for electricity, said brush fires are a common occurrence and most times residents handle the situation without assistance of fire crews.

“A lot of times the fire department can’t even make it up here,” said Richard Gonzales, a Navy veteran who has lived in the area for more than 30 years.

When the wildfire broke out Monday afternoon, Gonzales and his nephew were quick to begin shoveling dirt on the flames to protect their property.

“When you get close to it you can feel the heat and if the wind changes it can blow it right on you,” said Gonzales, 63, as he sat under the shade of a canopy sipping from a mini water bottle. “You have to try to save your property, but don’t try to be a hero and jump out in front of it or you’ll get burned to death.”

Michael Benn, another resident of the rural community comprised primarily of trailers, had another motivation for shoveling dirt on the fire: his livelihood.

Benn, a bee hive owner, said the flames and smoke were getting dangerously close to his hives, threatening the bees and his honey.

“We all shoveled up and down the whole road,” said the Benn, 56, who was still clutching his shovel as he spoke.

“It’s been a really dry year.”

This is the fourth brush fire in as many weeks in southwest Riverside County, though Riverside County Fire Department Public Information Officer Jody Hagemann said the number is not higher than usual.

“It’s pretty common,” Hagemann said. “It’s fire season. Fire season starts when the weather changes and it can go through the first of the year if it stays hot enough.”




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