Rain reaches Palm Springs area; evacuation orders in place near Apple, El Dorado wildfire sites

Staff and wire reports
 |  Palm Springs Desert Sun

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A winter storm blanketing Southern California that prompted officials to issue evacuation orders for areas around the El Dorado Fire and Apple Fire burn scars in Riverside and San Bernardino counties dropped light rain in the Coachella Valley and heavy snow in the surrounding mountain areas by early morning.

The mandatory evacuation order for San Bernardino County areas was downgraded to a warning at 8 a.m. Friday, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s said on Twitter. The warning remains in effect due to rain forecast throughout the remainder of the day, the sheriff’s department said. The evacuation orders issued for areas of Riverside County remain in effect. 

The steady rainfall that started just before 3 a.m. Friday morning in the Coachella Valley had given way to some blue sky by sunrise. By 8 a.m. in Palm Springs, 0.08 inch of rain had fallen and Whitewater received 0.47 inch, the National Weather Service reported.

There are no reports of road closures in the valley, but chains are now required on Highway 74 at Pinyon Pines and in Idyllwild, the California Highway Patrol reported on its website. Idyllwild had received 6 inches of snow by 8 a.m. Friday and Pine Cove had 8 inches.

In the San Bernardino mountains, Lake Arrowhead received 11 inches of snow overnight and Big Bear reported 10 inches of snow over the last 24 hours, the National Weather Service reported at 7:30 a.m. on Twitter.

Rain also was reported in Beaumont early Friday, just south of areas under mandatory evacuation orders as a result of one of two summer fires: The Apple Fire, which began July 31 near Cherry Valley and burned 33,424 acres, and the El Dorado Fire, which charred 22,597 acres after igniting Sept. 5 near Yucaipa.

The burn areas could receive around 3 inches of rain Friday with precipitation falling at a maximum rate of a little more than half-an-inch per hour, according to NWS meteorologist Brandt Maxwell. Officials fear heavy rain could lead to dangerous mudslides and debris flows. 

Rain was falling steadily at Hemmerling Elementary School in Banning on Friday morning, but as of 9:30 am no evacuees had arrived at the temporary Red Cross evacuation point yet.

Ken Rieger, a shelter supervisor with the Red Cross, said a family of four came in yesterday. They were offered a hotel voucher but declined. As for what the rest of the day might look like, “it depends on the weather and what’s happening out there,” Rieger said.

Firefighters in Perris rescued a motorist on the roof of a vehicle stuck in water just before 6 a.m. on San Jacinto Avenue at Murrieta Road, Cal Fire reported on Facebook. 

A winter storm warning and a flash flood watch took effect Thursday evening west of the Coachella Valley and are expected to remain in effect until Friday afternoon.

Evacuation orders

Heavy rains increase the risk of flooding in and around burn scars, including the Apple and El Dorado burn areas within the San Gorgonio Pass.

Mandatory evacuations were issued Thursday for the burn scar of the El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County ahead of Friday’s storms. The order was downgraded to a warning on Friday.

The order covered northeast Yucaipa, Mountain Home Village and Oak Glen. About 8,200 people are affected. 

By 3:30 a.m. Friday, 0.3 inch of rain had already accumulated in Yucaipa, just north of Beaumont in the San Bernardino County Mountains. By 8 a.m., Yucaipa had received 0.71 inch of rain, the National Weather Service reported. 

In the nearby community of Oak Glen, snow was reported with just under half-an-inch of accumulation with 5 to 9 inches total possible on Friday.

More: Firefighter killed in El Dorado Fire ID’d as Charles ‘Charlie’ Morton; sheriff investigating

More: Southern California’s Apple Fire is 90% contained. Getting there cost over $51 million

The Riverside County Emergency Management Department also issued a mandatory evacuation order for areas near the burn scars. They include the Noble A, Noble F, Bench A, Mias A and Mias B zones, as well as the Millard Outdoor Shooting Range, all of which are located in or near Cherry Valley, north of Beaumont. That order remained in place as of 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Residences on Avenida Miravilla, Live Oak Avenue and Vineland Street are within the mandatory evacuation area, according to the EMD.

Shane Reichardt, EMD senior public information specialist, said about 990 people live in the affected Riverside County area.

Evacuation warnings remained active early Friday in numerous neighborhoods, mostly throughout Cherry Valley and along the northern fringes of Beaumont.

“Showers with moderate to locally heavy rainfall will impact areas west of the mountains below 5,500 feet,” according to the NWS. “The heaviest rain is expected to … last through 6 a.m. Friday. Rainfall rates of .5 to .6 inches per hour are expected.”

In anticipation of the inclement weather, Riverside County health officials canceled a COVID-19 vaccination clinic scheduled for Friday at San Gorgonio Middle School in Beaumont. Appointments have been rescheduled to Monday and patients were notified via email for verification.

Highway 1 washed out near Big Sur

There were no immediate reports of large-scale debris flows in the region, but mud slid off burned slopes in Orange County’s Silverado Canyon and from a fire-scorched hillside onto State Route 39 on the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The multiple mudslides near the Silverado Canyon burn areas covered a road out of the canyon, keeping at least two television news crews from being able to leave the area.

The slide along Silverado Canyon Road, near Sycamore Drive and Rancho Way, and close to the Silverado and Bond fire burn scars, was first reported about 11 p.m. Thursday by Fox11.

Fox11 reporter Bill Melugin tweeted about 11:45 p.m., “We are currently trapped, but perfectly fine. Roads are impassible from multiple mudflows. Bulldozers on scene trying to clear it. Residents out in streets concerned about stability of other hills near their homes.”

Mud covered the road about a mile from the Orange County Fire Authority station in the canyon about 11:40 p.m., NBC4 reported. A news van from the station was unable to leave until crews using bulldozers cleared the roadway.

Further north, the drenching storm washed out Highway 1 near Big Sur, burying the Sierra Nevada in snow and causing muddy flows from slopes burned bare by wildfires.

Highway 1 closed after a section of the roadway collapsed when the cliffside below gave way amid torrential rain.

Highway crews were to begin damage assessments Friday and there was no estimate on when the popular driving route would reopen, the California Department of Transportation said.

Central coast rainfall topped 15 inches (38.1 centimeters) when the storm stalled there at midweek, triggering mud flows that damaged about two dozen homes. Firefighters used earth-moving equipment Thursday to rescue a horse and pony from deep mud near Salinas.

Down the coast, a water rescue team helped a woman to safety after she became trapped on a road between two rain-swollen creeks in Santa Barbara County on Thursday.

Officials at Los Angeles International Airport warned travelers of potential delays due to thunderstorms.

In Azusa, a motorist managed to escape injury when a portion of a rain-soaked hillside slid down to Highway 39, pushing his car across the roadway and toward a cliff.

Azusa police closed the roadway to all traffic at Old San Gabriel Canyon Road so crews could remove the muck from the roadway.

And with lightning spotted off the coast, Los Angeles County lifeguards closed beaches from Zuma to Marina del Rey Friday morning.

The storm also unleashed a huge amount of snow in the Sierra, where the annual snowpack normally provides about a third of the state’s water supply. 

The Mammoth Mountain ski resort reported the storm had dropped 8.92 feet (2.72 meters) of snow as of early Friday, with more falling. California Department of Transportation plows worked to clear some mountain highways and others were open with strict chain requirements.

Yosemite National Park officials said the snowstorm would force it to remain closed until at least Feb. 1.

Much-needed moisture in parched California

While the storm stoked fears of mudslides and debris flows in burn areas, the system also is bringing much-needed precipitation to California amid an unusually dry winter. 

Atmospheric rivers, like the one that barreled ashore in the north early in the week and rolled into Southern California Thursday night, are long, narrow bands of water vapor that form over an ocean and flow through the sky. They occur globally but are especially significant on the West Coast of the United States, where they create 30% to 50% of annual precipitation and are linked to water supply and problems such as flooding and mudslides, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The atmospheric river is part of a major change in weather for California, which had significant drought conditions for months. The dryness contributed to wildfires that scorched more than 4.2 million acres in 2020, the most in recorded modern history.

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Video: Apple Fire time lapse

Video: Ten minute time-lapse of the Apple Fire erupting north of Cabazon.

Palm Springs Desert Sun

Reporting by Desert Sun editor Marie McCain, reporters Colin Atagi and Sherry Barkas and City News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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