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Hundreds of residents who had been forced from their homes days earlier by a fast-moving brush fire that has charred 2,000 acres in the hillsides near Murrieta were allowed to return home Friday.
Nearly 900 firefighters have been assigned to the Tenaja fire in Riverside County, which started Wednesday around 4PM near Tenaja and Clinton Keith roads on a day marked by thunderstorms in the region, officials said.
While the blaze burned all the way down to the Copper Canyon neighborhood in Murrieta on Thursday, crews stopped the flames before any homes were destroyed, said Capt. Fernando Herrera, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“The fire probably came within a couple thousand feet of homes,” he said.
The decision to reduce evacuation orders to warnings comes after firefighters — aided by lower temperatures and increased humidity — made significant progress on the blaze overnight. The wildfire was 25% contained Friday evening , said Capt. Fernando Herrera, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Evacuation orders had been in place since Thursday for homes along Montanya, Botanica and Belcara places and Lone Oak Way in Murietta. A day earlier, officials ordered evacuations of houses along the Trails Circle in La Cresta and Copper Canyon, as well as the Santa Rosa Plateau visitor center on Clinton Keith Road.
“We’ll take advantage of nightfall,” Herrera said Thursday. “This evening, we’ll be able to get our folks up on the higher ridges to work that and just continue strengthening the perimeter of the fire, making sure we put out any hot spots on the perimeter so we have that in effect tomorrow.”
Campuses in the Murrieta Valley Unified School District are closed Friday because of the fire and poor air quality in the region.
The blaze erupted toward the end of a remarkably calm summer in terms of wildfires.
After two years of devastating wildfires that burned more than 1.8 million acres in 2018 and 1.2 million acres in 2017, as of Aug. 18, only 51,079 acres had burned this year across state and federal lands in California.
Late spring rains, cooler summer temperatures and fewer extreme wind events, among other factors, have combined to help keep the state from burning uncontrollably, experts say.