2,000-acre Canyon Fire reaches 20 percent containment

- As fire crews continued working to build containment around the 2,000-acre Canyon Fire on the Orange-Riverside county border, evacuation orders were lifted Wednesday for hundreds of homes in the Corona area that were initially threatened by the flames.

Evacuation orders were lifted at 10 a.m., ending the uncertainty facing about 1,500 residents of 500 homes just off the Riverside (91) Freeway in Corona. All roads were reopened in the area, but are accessible only to residents with valid identification.

Fire officials noted that while streets are open, the off-ramp from the eastbound 91 Freeway to Green River Road remains closed.

Meanwhile, containment of the 2,000-acre blaze was estimated at 20 percent, with full containment expected by Sunday.

The blaze broke out about 1 p.m. Monday alongside the eastbound 91 Freeway, just west of Green River Road in west Corona, and initially spread at a "moderate'' rate to Coal Canyon Road off the freeway, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi.

The fire began spreading at a "rapid rate'' around 3 p.m. Monday, fanned by Santa Ana winds blowing at 20 to 25 mph. By Monday night, it had charred about 2,000 acres, damaged a single-family home and a big rig and was only 5 percent contained, Concialdi said.

Battling the blaze were about 1,600 firefighters from the Anaheim, Corona and Los Angeles County fire departments, the OCFA, U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire.

Eleven helicopters and nine air tankers were assigned to the firefight, including a DC-10 airplane, Concialdi said.

Firefighters battled the blaze amid highs in the 90s Tuesday. Wednesday's highs will be only slightly lower.

Fire crews confirmed that one house was damaged by the flames, although the extent was not immediately known. Two other structures also were damaged.

A Corona police officer directing traffic was injured by a hit-and-run driver about 8:30 p.m. Monday at Green River Road and Montana Ranch Road, according to Corona police Detective Andy Bryant.

David Shaheen, 53, of Corona, was booked on suspicion of felony hit-and- run for allegedly driving around traffic control barriers at the intersection and hitting the patrol officer, Bryant said. The officer was taken to a hospital, treated and released, Bryant said.

"Fortunately for him he was wearing his helmet because he hit his head on the ground,'' Bryant said.

Shaheen posted bail and was released, Bryant said.

The Corona Norco Unified School District cancelled classes at seven schools Wednesday -- Coronita Elementary School, John Adams Elementary School, Cesar Chavez Academy, Prado View Elementary School, Eisenhower Elementary School, Citrus Hills Intermediate School and Franklin Elementary School -- due to evacuations, road closures and poor air quality. All other district schools were open, including Corona High School, but were on an inclement weather schedule due to poor air quality, officials said.

"The current school closures are schools that are closest to the active fire and are near the mountain ridge,'' according to school district officials. "The closed schools are also the schools that would be most affected by road closures and have a higher risk of evacuation.''

Several lanes on the eastbound Riverside Freeway at Coal Canyon Road were initially closed to make room for firefighting equipment, backing up traffic for miles, the California Highway Patrol reported.

As of Tuesday night, the eastbound No. 5 lane remained closed from Coal Canyon Road to Green River Road, including the Green River Road off-ramp. Northbound Black Star Canyon at Silverado Canyon Drive in Orange County also was closed, as well as Coal Canyon Road at Gypsum Canyon Road.    

For many commuting from the Inland Empire to Orange County, the Riverside Freeway is the only access point, said CHP Officer Florentino Olivera. "But we're asking the public, if possible, to avoid the eastbound
91.''

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