LAKE ELSINORE (CNS) - Firefighters moved closer today to fully encircling a wildfire that has burned 1,416 acres in the Cleveland National Forest near Lake Elsinore.
The Falls Fire, which broke out Monday morning, was 78 percent contained as of late Wednesday, with full containment expected around 6 p.m. Friday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The Ortega (74) Highway linking Riverside and Orange counties, which was closed when flames reached the southbound side of the route Monday, was being intermittently reopened Wednesday to residents with identification.
``Rolling rocks, fire-damaged guardrails and highway signs will remain a problem,'' a Forest Service statement warned.
A three-mile stretch of the highway remains completely shut down between Grand Avenue and Main Divide Road, but is expected to re-open before week's end.
The USFS, Cal Fire and Riverside County fire personnel have formed a unified command to battle the blaze, which was being fueled by 6-foot-tall chaparral and fine fuels in steep terrain, according to USFS spokeswoman Vickie Wright.
Four firefighters have suffered heat-related illnesses battling the fire, Wright said. A few outbuildings have been destroyed, but no homes.
A mandatory evacuation for the 50-home Decker Canyon community was lifted Tuesday evening, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. Evacuation orders for Lakeland Village and Rancho Capistrano were lifted late Monday.
A total of 1,000 firefighters, 90 engine companies, six helicopters, six air tankers, 13 water tenders and seven bulldozers were deployed against the blaze as of late Wednesday.
The fire was reported around 10 a.m. Monday and quickly spread into Morrell and Decker canyons. When flames reached the Ortega Highway around 3 p.m., the CHP implemented a ``hard closure'' affecting the entire 30-mile route.
The federal government said this week it will be covering some of the expense of fighting the fire, with up to 75 percent of firefighting costs eligible for reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory Wednesday for Lake Elsinore, Perris Valley and the Temecula Valley, cautioning residents to avoid unnecessary outdoor activity to avoid exposure to smoke settling over the region.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.