An early view of the River Fire, which started early Sunday morning and has since grown to 2,800 acres south of Salinas. (CalFire/Contributed)

SALINAS VALLEY — The River Fire, a blaze sparked by unusual weather early Sunday morning, has charred at least 2,800 acres in the Pine Canyon area just outside of Salinas, CalFire reported Monday morning.

The fire is currently 10% contained and residents in the areas of Pine Canyon Road, Parker Road, Laurel Lane and Trimble Hill Lane have been evacuated. CalFire has also given 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.

The County of Monterey established an evacuation center at Buena Vista Middle School, 18250 Tara Drive in Salinas, but that center closed late Sunday, according to county spokeswoman Maia Carroll. 

“The center opened early (Sunday) and hosted a small number of evacuees, providing a respite, water and snacks,” she said. “Should the center be needed again, it can be reopened quickly.”

Five structures have been damaged and four firefighters have suffered heat-related injuries since the wildland fire started at about 3:14 a.m. Sunday.

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, CalFire 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. (PG&E) customers in parts of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Joaquin counties Saturday evening.

At least 250 personnel are battling the blaze, including 10 hand crews from the San Benito-Monterey CalFire unit. CalFire has set up an Incident Command for the River Fire 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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