Fire erupted in the hills directly behind La Sierra University on Tuesday, the second day of the 2009-2010 school year. The fire, known alternately as the La Sierra fire and the Norco/Riverside fire began mid-morning, spreading rapidly under searing temperatures and wind gusts topping 50 miles per hour.
According to officials, the blaze began near Ingalls Park in Norco, approximately one mile northwest of the LSU campus. Flames quickly traversed a narrow, brush-covered ridge between the cities of Riverside and Norco, threatening the Hidden Valley Golf Club.
Several crews fought the fire at ground level while California Department of Forestry planes made several passes, dropping large swaths of fire retardant on hillsides. Two CDF helicopters worked in tandem, drawing from a water feature on the golf course and dousing flames.
By early afternoon, the fire crested the top of a hill known locally as "Two Bit," flanking La Sierra University on the campus's westward side. Huge plumes of brown and black smoke blocked the sky above the campus. Students watched from the campus as flames jumped high into the air.
Beverly Maravilla, a student and office administrator in the LSU Office of Spiritual Life, says the fire felt surreal.
"I didnt feel particularly worried about it, just kind of struck at how from one day to another, you go from hearing about local fires in the Sothern California in the counties around you to actually being that community the news is talking about.
"Seeing how worried other people were about it was interesting as well. Some people, especially those not used to the summer fires of SoCal were particualrly scared and worried."
Other students were away from campus when the fire broke out. Adam Hicks recounts becoming worried when he saw the fire's smoke.
"I was at lunch with my wife, and when we saw smoke in the distance, and realizing what was in that area, we were like, 'Is the school on fire? Our apartment?' Coming back to the school, we realized that both were safe, then heard that no houses had burned down. Thank God!"
As wind gusts pushed the fire west, away from the campus, fire crews made a stand in the 2000 block of Wolfson Street near Foxtrotter Road southwest of campus. Helicopters continued their drops on the flames and ground crews lit back fires to contain the fire. No homes were reported lost, though the blaze came mere feet away from several houses.
Despite the severity of the fire and its close proximity to La Sierra's campus, many did not initially notice its encroachment.
For music major Taryn Johnson, a junior, surprise turned to concern, which then gave way to confusion.
"I was so focused on my classes I didn't even notice the fire until I saw the plumes of smoke around 2pm. It was as if it had just suddenly appeared and filled up the campus sky within seconds. I was concerned about it being so close and called my parents to let them know what was going on.
"I didn't know a lot of details, but I was confused that we didn't cancel classes or even have a fire drill anywhere. I guess they had it under control and there was no need to worry, but as soon as I heard about it, I ran to the music building to get my bassoon out of my locker, just in case."
[Article Extras: See More Photos]
At approximately six o'clock Tuesday evening, crews had the fire contained. Firefighters hosed off hotspots, and a fire detail from the California Department of Corrections, clad in orange jump suits, cleared brush from the fire's perimeter.
Matthew Burdette, a La Sierra ministerial student, expressed some disappointment that the fire did not cause class cancellations.
"I was hoping to be evacuated. I didn't want to go to my afternoon class."
The La Sierra fire, which claimed some 250 acres, was one of five on Tuesday. Another fire five miles northeast of campus burned for several hours near the Santa Ana River. Two fires in Redlands and another in Temecula, all within a 30 mile radius, made a busy day for fire crews and raised suspicions of arson. The cause of the La Sierra fire is still under investigation.
Thursday, a sixteen-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of lighting a fire east of Loma Linda in a fire that continues to burn near Crafton Hills College.
September, October and November are peak wildfire months in Southern California. Temperatures often into the triple digits coupled with extremely low humidity and dry vegetation provide fuel for fires. Santa Ana winds, which are strongest in the Autumn, have the capacity for whipping flames into uncontrollable infernos.
Article Extras: Photos of the La Sierra fire
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1865