Southern California’s Apple Fire burns across San Bernardino forest

Luc Stringer | Banner | Smoke billows across the mountainside as the fire rages through Cherry Valley.

Three fires merged into one massive blaze on July 31, and the resulting Apple Fire has consumed 26,850 acres in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. No injuries have been reported.

Cal Fire reported on Aug. 4 that the wildfire, caused by a malfunctioning diesel engine that spat out materials near Oakland Road in Cherry Valley, was 15% contained.

Lisa Cox, fire information officer for the San Bernardino National Forest, said the vehicle’s exhaust malfunctioned in the afternoon, when it is the hottest.

Cox said the Apple Fire is not close to being contained, especially with the wind picking up.

“It is a little too early to have a containment date, as right now we do not have one for this fire,” Cox said. “With no rain in sight — and the temperate not going down much — and with high humidity, the fire is not really stoppable.”

As the fire grew, officials ordered about 7,800 people to evacuate their homes. The Red Cross quickly stepped in to help with shelters for families. With Covid-19 also posing a significant threat, the Red Cross had to figure out how to shelter evacuees while also maintaining the state’s safety guidelines.

“Because of the coronavirus we can not have the normal amount of people we would have in a shelter that close together,” said Ken Rieger, a shelter supervisor for the Red Cross. “Our main objectives are the safety of clients and volunteers, so we elected to go with a hotel for as long as we can.”

As the Red Cross provides shelter, the fire continues to rage through the areas surrounding Cherry Valley, including Beaumont, where an Incident Command Post was established at Noble Creek Park.

The command post helps coordinate information among first responders while giving them a chance to take a break.

Luc Stringer | CBU Banner Luc Stringer | Banner | View of the fire from the command center.

To help support and feed first responders, World Central Kitchen, an organization that helps feed people in need after natural or man-made disasters, set up shop at the command post.

Jason Collis, a chef at World Central Kitchen and director of procurement, said they were glad to do their share and help the community.

“Thank goodness the evacuation is not too high, and we were able to come here and boost morale for the firefighters,” Collis said.

Firefighters are continuing to battle the wildfire that has caused thousands to evacuate while also keeping everyone in the community safe. An evacuation center was set up at Beaumont High School, which is also employing temperature screenings, masks and distancing measures.

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