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Riverside County fire 40% contained, 2 structures damaged

March 1, 2013 |  3:32 pm

Firefighters faced hot, windy conditions Friday as they worked to contain a fire burning in Riverside County that has damaged one home and one other structure.

The fire near in Jurupa Hills spans 311 acres, Riverside County Fire Department officials said. Crews had the flames 40% contained Friday afternoon.

A house near the Santa Ana River bottom, where the fire is still smoldering, caught fire when sparks jumped from the river and landed on the roof, officials said. An outbuilding not connected to the house also caught fire.

The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for Riverside County on Friday morning, warning that firefighters and residents could experience winds between 15 and 25 mph and gusts as strong as 45 mph.

“As long as the weather holds out, we’re good,”said Greg Birchfield, a Fire Department spokesman. “But if it gets windy, it can really take off.”

Earlier reports placed the size of the fire closer to 200 acres, which was deemed too conservative after commanders flew over the fire Friday morning and mapped the area using GPS technology, Birchfield said.

The fire began along the Santa Ana River bottom between Riverside and an unincorporated part of the county about 4:45 p.m. Thursday, officials said. Flames as high as 30 feet quickly spread through the south end of the Rancho Jurupa Regional Park, northwest of Riverside Municipal Airport.

Bulldozers and crews that included inmates from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation worked to dig a fire line around the river basin, where flames continued to smolder.  

The river bottom is filled with dormant bamboo and brush so thick that it’s impossible to walk through, Birchfield said. The dried vegetation is like tinder in the fire.

“Right now, it’s creeping along at the bottom of the river,” Birchfield said. “Not getting up and running, which is good for us.”

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-- Laura J. Nelson (twitter.com/laura_nelson)

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