A house is damaged from the River Fire, which has destroyed several buildings and is threatening another 1,500 structures south of Salinas as of Tuesday. (Photo by Tony Nuñez)

SALINAS — The River Fire, a blaze sparked by unusual weather early Sunday morning, has charred at least 4,070 acres in the Pine Canyon area just outside of Salinas, Cal Fire reported Tuesday morning.

The fire is still only 10% contained. A Cal Fire spokesperson said firefighter crews worked overnight to increase containment, but made little progress without the help of the overnight marine layer, a result of the current California heat wave.

Cal Fire said it expects to fully contain the fire by Aug. 30.

The fire has destroyed six structures and damaged another two, and it is currently threatening more than 1,500 other buildings. Four firefighters have suffered minor heat-related injuries.

Residents in the areas of Pine Canyon Road, Parker Road, Laurel Lane and Trimble Hill Lane have been evacuated.

Cal Fire on Monday gave an evacuation advisory to residents of Indian Canyon, Mt. Toro Access Road and San Benancio Road from Troy Lane to Corral de Tierra, including Corral del Cielo Road, Lucie Lane and Covie Lane.

By Tuesday morning, that warning had spread to residents south of River Road from Tara Drive to Pine Canyon Road, including all roads off Las Palmas Parkway, Ranchito Drive, Indian Springs Road, Berry Drive, Enos Drive, Redding Drive and Belmont Circle. Residents southwest of Parker Road, Northwest of Corral del Cielo Road and Rana Creek were also advised to evacuate. Cal Fire also said residents in the Harper Canyon Area should be ready to evacuate.

The County of Monterey has opened an evacuation center at Toro Park School, 22500 Portola Drive in Salinas, that will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Friday. 

The center will offer water and snacks for those needing a place to get out of the heat, make evacuation plans or ask for services.

Residents who need emergency housing or have lost homes can call the American Red Cross 24-hour disaster dispatch helpline at 866-272-2237.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Sunday authorized the use of federal funds to assist the state in combating the fire, saying that it “threatened to become a major incident.”

At the time of the request, the fire threatened around 1,800 homes. The fire also threatened a school, community center, zoo, country club, Highway 68 and multiple agricultural facilities.

Lightning strikes and high winds from an atypical storm system that rolled through the Central Coast sparked the fire, Cal Fire said. 

The River Fire is one of dozens that arose throughout the area as a result of the lightning strikes and the weekend heatwave — Salinas on Sunday reached 97 degrees before noon — that produced a string of rolling blackouts affecting at least 210,000 Pacific, Gas and Electric Co. customers in parts of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Joaquin counties Saturday evening.

On Monday, Monterey County officials said residents could face additional blackouts of one to two hours every day until Wednesday from 3 to 10 p.m., as the state’s energy grid continues to struggle with increased demand because of the ongoing heat wave.

The California Independent System Operator early Monday issued a statewide Flex Alert, a call for voluntary electricity conservation. The Flex Alert will extend through Wednesday and is in effect from 3 to 10 p.m. each day.

At least 250 personnel are battling the River Fire, including 10 hand crews from the San Benito-Monterey Cal Fire unit. Cal Fire has set up an Incident Command at Monterey County’s Toro Park, which is closed to the public until further notice.

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Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.


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