California wildfire evacuation orders reduced to warnings

Erin Donalson/iStock(LOS ANGELES) -- Authorities in Murrieta, California, have downgraded mandatory evacuation orders to evacuation warnings, after the fast-moving Tenaja wildfires scorched nearly 2,000 acres in Riverside County.

"Murrieta police officers will be in the area to oversee the re-population process and ensure everyone’s safety," Murrieta city officials said in a statement Friday. "Please be advised that there will still be fire apparatus and equipment in the area and drive safely. Be respectful of residents and their need to get home and try to avoid the area if you don’t live there or have a reason to be there."

On Friday morning, the massive fire came within feet of homes in Southern California, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles.

A thick blanket of smoke and ash could be seen falling on nearby homes. More than 500 homes and 1,200 residents were evacuated as the brush fire ripped through the hills overnight Wednesday.

The Tenaja fire broke out in La Cresta, California, on Wednesday around 4 p.m.

The fire was first reported after it grew to 25 acres, forcing road closures. By around 9 p.m. that same day, the fire had grown to nearly 1,000 acres. Authorities said they believed lightning caused the fires.

Residents were urged to avoid breathing the smoky, polluted air as the fight against the wildfires entered its third day, forcing school closures. On Friday, fire containment was at 20%, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

"It was really surreal. It felt like a 1,000-degree oven. It was crazy," said Jacob Samarin, who stayed with his father, John, in their home as it was nearly surrounded by a giant wall of flames that engulfed the backyard.

Firefighters from Riverside, Murrieta as well as Cal Fire sprinted house to house with large water hoses, desperately trying to keep the fires at bay, as homeowners frantically did their best watering down their homes as well.

On Thursday, more than 500 firefighters battled the raging inferno on the ground and in the air. Fighting the blaze was a challenge due to the difficult terrain and changing winds, authorities said.

"The winds will come out of one direction in the morning, and then by the afternoon we'll get a 180-degree switch," said Riverside County Fire Department Division Chief Todd Hopkins during a news conference Thursday.

Even as the evacuation orders charged Friday, authorities said they were worried about the return of the high winds, refueling the wildfires and cautioned residents to stay aware.

"These evacuation warnings can be changed back to an evacuation order at any time depending on fire containment throughout the day," Murrieta Fire and Rescue said on its Facebook page Friday. "Please monitor updates and be ready to evacuate again if needed."

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