A brush fire, which erupted in the San Bernardino National Forest on Wednesday and led to mandatory evacuations and threatened 600 homes, may have been due to arson.
The fire broke out before noon off Highway 74 in the San Jacinto Mountains, between Hemet and Mountain Center. Within 40 minutes of the fire erupting, it grew to 200 acres then quadrupled in less than two hours. The blaze continued to explode against firefighters’ efforts to contain the inferno. By 4 p.m., the fire grew to almost 1,200 acres and was zero percent contained according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The “Cranston Fire,” as locals are calling it, grew rapidly, jumping highways, closing roads, and causing thousands of residents to evacuate according to ABC. Devouring any trees or brush in its path, the fire sent thick columns of smoke into the air. A smoke advisory was issued in several parts of Riverside County.
Although authorities have not stated the cause of the Cranston Fire, the Press Enterprise said a witness, not identified by authorities, told the California Highway Patrol that a person “started another fire and went westbound toward Hemet on Highway 74.”
— San Bernardino National Forest (@SanBernardinoNF) July 25, 2018
Brian Coyne from Hemet, California, said he saw the California Highway Patrol, Hemet Police, and sheriff’s deputies at Newport Road and State Street pull over a man then take him into custody. An investigator told the publication the man was handcuffed on the hood of a white Honda.
A California Fire spokesman said the agency did not have any information and was waiting for the U.S. Forest Service to say something.
“It’s under investigation. Right now the priority is protecting structures and infrastructure.”
By 9 p.m. the Cranston Fire grew to 4,700 acres and was 0 percent contained according to the San Bernardino National Forest’s tweet. Videos from the scene show multiple homes burning. County officials said 110 homes were evacuated, 600 structures threatened, and 3,800 customers in the area were left without power.
Many agencies responded to the fire via ground and air. The San Bernardino National Forest partners with Cal Fire Riverside and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department while trying to fight the blaze.
The flames broke out as Southern California entered the third day of a massive heat wave which brought record-setting temperatures to parts of the region, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures in the area where the fire continues to burn are estimated to hit 104 degrees during the excessive heat warning throughout the week while emergency responders continue to fight the flames.