Firefighters battle growing blaze near Murrieta

Firefighters battle growing blaze near Murrieta

Rachel Gildersleeve decided Wednesday afternoon to take the back road home from school.

As she was driving, the 18-year-old Murietta resident started to see smoke and then a small flame.

The two cars in front of her kept driving, and Gildersleeve looked at the burned ground and figured the fire must be contained.

But as she and the others drove on Tenaja Road toward Clinton Keith Road, the fire exploded around her. Without cell service, she couldn’t call 911. Her only option was to keep driving.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God’ when I couldn’t even see in front of me,” Gildersleeve said. “At one point, the car in front of me disappeared. I couldn’t see anything. All I saw was flames. All I saw was smoke, and I thought ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it.’”

Tenaja fire

Rachel Gildersleeve, 18, of Murietta, was one of three drivers who ended up in the middle of the Tenaja fire Wednesday afternoon before officials closed Tenaja Road. She and the other drivers made it out safely.

(Courtesy of Rachel Gildersleeve)

Finally, the smoke started to clear, and Gildersleeve saw several fire trucks in the distance. She’d made it out alive.

On Wednesday evening, the Tenaja fire had grown by 7:45 p.m. to 250 fires and was 5% contained.

Almost 300 firefighters in Riverside County were responding to the
rapidly burning brush fire near Murrieta that prompted authorities to issue mandatory evacuation orders for all residences along The Trails Circle in La Cresta and the Santa Rose Plateau Visitor Center along Clinton Keith Road.

The fire was reported about 4 p.m. near Tenaja Road and Clinton Keith Road and is burning in heavy brush and grass, and threatening structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

It remains unclear what started the fire, but a thunderstorm did move through the area before the fire started, officials said.

Six air tankers and three helicopters were busy throughout the afternoon dropping water and retardant on the growing blaze. At nightfall, those tankers and helicopters were grounded because they weren’t able to safely fly at night, a Cal Fire Riverside spokeswoman said. Orange County Fire Authority had sent two water-dropping helicopters with night flying capabilities, and those were expected to arrive soon, Tawny Cabral, a public information officer with Cal Fire Riverside said about 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Ray Rock, 22, of Murietta, was standing in his front yard Wednesday evening watching the fire creep closer.

Rock said the fire, as the crow flies, was about 3 ½ miles from his home.

Ash was falling from the sky, and a steady wind was continuing to blow through the area, he said.

“So I’m watching the Tenaja fire crest over the hill toward Murietta,” Rock said. “I’m say (flames) are no more than a mile and a half from neighborhoods.”

Beth Maranville, 59, of Murietta, was standing near a ridge in Oakhurst Estates on Wednesday evening watching the fire grow increasingly closer to homes.

Maranville had watched the fire when it was farther away near La Cresta and was shocked at home quickly it had chewed through brush.

About 8 p.m., law enforcement officers came through the area and asked Maranville and others to evacuate the area, she said.

“I just saw the lights go out from the house that’s closest,” Maranville said. “They had already wet their house down. It’s not looking good, but we’ve prayed, and we’re going to trust God.”

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as information becomes available.

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