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Southern California wildfire forces 4,000 residents to evacuate homes

A structure is engulfed in flames as a wildfire called the Highland Fire burns in Aguanga, California, on Oct. 30, 2023.

Ethan Swope | AP

Roughly 4,000 residents in Southern California have been ordered to evacuate their homes due to a raging fire in the small town of Aguanga in Riverside County, which spread further overnight.

Dry brush ignited Monday afternoon, causing a fire that was initially just 14 acres and was classified as spreading at a “moderate rate,” according to the Riverside County Fire Department. In the evening, it was reclassified as a “critical rate” spread and had grown to more than 1,200 acres. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

On Monday, 1,139 homes near the area were ordered to evacuate, equating to about 4,000 people, according to Maggie Cline De La Rosa, a spokesperson for the county fire department. The flare-up, dubbed the Highland Fire, destroyed three structures and damaged six others. The fire department has yet to identify what kind of structures they are.

By Tuesday morning, the fire expanded to 2,200 acres. More than 300 firefighters have been assigned to respond to the uncontained blaze. A care center is open at a local high school for evacuated residents. An animal shelter is open for those who want to drop off at-risk animals.

According to De La Rosa, an additional roughly 500 homes, or about 1,700 people, have been put on evacuation warning, which is not a mandate but asks residents to consider clearing the area. The fire department released a searchable map to locate the evacuated areas. Three roads in the region have also been closed.

Dry winds and low humidity have exacerbated the spread and made it more challenging for firefighters to get the flames under control, said De La Rosa.

The National Weather Service has issued an air quality alert to surrounding neighborhoods due to the windblown dust and smoke of the wildfire.

As California blazes go, the Highland Fire is fairly standard. Over the past five years, the state experienced some of the largest wildfires in its history, which have respectively burned hundreds of thousands, sometimes over one million, acres at a time.

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