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From Inferno To Hope, But It's Too Early To Declare Victory Over Holy Fire

The Holy Fire in Lake Elsinore on August 9, 2018. (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
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Things looked really, really bad Thursday night in Lake Elsinore.

"Oh, it was horrible last night," said Sharon Holmes.

"It was a nightmare," added Helen Zarb-Cousin. "Did you see the movie 'Inferno'? That's what it was, an inferno."

The women had a front-row seat to the battle to save their community. Their mobile home community is right across from the evacuation zone. On Friday morning, they stood outside with another friend and cheered on Friday morning as fire trucks passed by.

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The slopes immediately above Lake Elsinore were singed and smoky, but mostly flame-free.

"This looks wonderful," Holmes said, sweeping her arm toward the foothills. "We are really thankful."

Still, a police officer down the street turned back residents who were hoping to check on their evacuated homes, despite begging.


It's way too early to declare victory in Lake Elsinore, said Kate Kraemer, a spokeswoman for Cleveland National Forest, which is coordinating the firefighting effort. Wildfires tend to "lay down" in the early morning hours, when temperatures drop and humidity increases.

"We did the mandatory evacuations for a reason," she said, adding that there has been no discussion of lifting them. Kraemer said there is still no official estimate of damage to structures over the night but some is expected.

"This fire, it's a dynamic creature," she said, adding that it spread in nearly all directions last night.

A quiet smoky morning at Lake Elsinore. (Jill Replogle / LAist)
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By 11 a.m., the wind was starting to pick up and the temperature was rising. A tall, dark plume of smoke rose from the mountains west of Lake Elsinore.

The Holy Fire has burned more than 19,100 acres since Monday afternoon. After growing substantially overnight Thursday, fire officials reported 10% containment on Friday evening.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency declarationfor Orange and Riverside Counties on Thursday as the fire threatened homes and led to mandatory evacuations of neighborhoods. Fire officials warned others they should get ready to get out.

Porfirio Mendoza and his wife were among those already forced to flee. They spent last night at Temescal Canyon High School, along with around 85 other evacuees. He said that the flames were very close to his home when he and his wife got out.

"Muy cerquitas y las llamas muy altas."

Very close and big, he said. From the evacuation center, Mendoza could see his neighborhood up in the hills. He said so far it looked like homes has escaped the fire.

Lindsay Howanec was also waiting for word as she and her sister walked their two dogs outside of the evacuation center. Her family spent the night in the school's parking lot in their motorhome.

"We've heard houses are good, we've heard some have taken some damage so we're not really sure," she said.

Fire authorities don't yet have an update on whether or how many homes may have been damaged or destroyed overnight. Teams are heading out into neighborhoods to assess the damage this morning.

The fire is burning in a particularly difficult area, where winds are both strong and unpredictable.

Alex Tardy, an NWS San Diego meteorologist, talked to KPCC's All Things Considered about what they call the Elsinore Conversion Zone -- a natural boundary where the winds collide in different directions.

"The sea breeze is trying to make it from the ocean into the land where it's really hot and it can't make it through the Santa Ana Mountains, because they're just too big," Tardy said. "So it goes around it to the north and around it to the south and literally collides from Lake Elsinore all the way across the valley there to about Hemet."

That means firefighters are facing winds that may not behave like they typically do in fire zones.

The zone where the fire is being fought today is known for erratic wind behavior that creates a funneling effect in an area surrounded by mountains that keeps it very hot.

Tardy says that means firefighters need to pay close attention.

"They know that in the morning the wind will shift as the sun comes out and will start rising up the mountains. They know at night the wind change directions as the air gets heavier and slightly cooler and slides back down the mountain," he said.

What they can't predict is when the winds might change.

"The north winds battle the south winds and that might happen in the middle of the afternoon," he said.

How deadly conditions can be in this area is well known. Six firefighters -- including three members of the El Cariso Hotshots -- were killed 59 years ago this week while battling the Decker Fire.

The men were killed in three burnovers, that's when fire overtakes people.

Check back for more updates. This story is developing.


7:09 p.m. This story updated with new acreage and containment information.

2 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from neighbors and Kraemer.

8:35 a.m.: This story updated with information from evacuees.

8:18 a.m.: This story updated with information about wind conditions.

This article originally published at 7:43 a.m.

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