Scorched hillsides tell of a harrowing several hours spent battling the Temprano Fire that claimed an estimated 200 acres Sunday in a rural part of Murrieta.
Property owners were grateful Monday that their homes were spared.
There is however a shared frustration among residents and officials about the lacking infrastructure in the Los Alamos Hills area, which was greatly affected by the blaze.
Flames broke out at about 4:45 p.m. Sunday in the Warm Springs Preserve off Via Temprano and quickly threatened nearby properties, many in Los Alamos Hills.
The rural area that consists of 244 property owners was annexed into the city in 2002. Because there are no fire hydrants and limited access, some property owners are pushing the city to implement a specific plan to improve the area.
"We have one way in here and one way out," said Mark Longnecker, whose 2 1/2-acre property on Somerville Road was 50 yards from the fire line.
"It was just like a river of fire," Longnecker told Patch Monday. "It was insane."
When he saw that the fire was likely going to spare his property, he said he immediately began working to save his neighbor's home, also on Somerville.
That homeowner, Michele Johnson, was in Temecula when she received a call from another neighbor stating the fire was moving toward her property.
The Johnsons rushed from Temecula but were not allowed to drive in to the fire zone. So they left their cars and "ran in," Johnson told Patch.
They began helping Longnecker hose down the property.
"He really saved our house," Johnson said. "Flames were coming over his head...we were surrounded on all sides. By the time we got here there were a few fire trucks on the property. We really didn’t think it was going to be saved but they did an awesome job."
Then the frustration set in, she said.
"There’s no fire hydrant here. We lost our power. That shut down all our wells. Which was how we were all fighting the fires—with our hoses. The firemen were using our wells and water to fight fires," Johnson said.
"Our power went off and later we heard that they shut down our grid which leaves us with no power to run our well.
"So now they have to go all the way to Los Alamos Road to fill up from the hydrant to come back to be able to fight the fire. So there were definitely frustrations. They have a hard time getting on our roads. They couldn’t find our addresses. We have poor street signage."
The Johnsons lost part of their fence, new vegetation they had just planted the day before, and their roof was damaged.
"We thought we were safe and then an hour later our roof catches fire. My husband walked down there to get something. So then we have one spigot that we were filling buckets with. There must have been 20 people here helping us."
Across the canyon, she said they could see the MacLean residence getting hit hard. The MacLean's lost an RV, outbuilding and their hot tub, along with some irreplaceable possessions, CBS reported.
While visible from the Johnson's home, the MacLean property can only be accessed from Hunter Road, near where the Murrieta Fire Department had its command center set up.
About 100 to 200 tract homes off Hunter Road—accessible from Winchester Road—were also threatened by the flames. Tract homes on the west side off Via Temprano, accessible from Whitewood, were also in danger, as was a retirement community accessible from Murrieta Hot Springs Road.
Murrieta fire Chief Matt Shobert agreed with the concerns shared by Los Alamos Hills residents.
“We are very familiar with the infrastructure in that area," Shobert said. "Our whole wild land fire drill was there two years ago, 100 feet from those homes that were threatened."
Many of the homes predate the annexation, he said.
“If they wanted to bring these homes in with today’s building standards, it would require two ways in and two ways out…these homes were all grandfathered in," Shobert said.
"I wish there was a fire hydrant every 300 to 500 feet."
However, he said "we have put several things in place to help compensate for the shortcomings of this community."
Murrieta fire engines carry 750 gallons of water instead of the commonplace 500 gallons, the chief said.
Additionally, the department has four, Type 3 brush engines, as well as a water tender, he said.
“Some things a homeowner can do to help us is provide that defensible space—that 100-feet buffer—around their property."
All of Murrieta's resources were put toward the fire that ravaged through the canyon. The Murrieta Fire Department also received support from CAL FIRE/Riverside County Fire Department, as well from neighboring agencies such as Corona, Pechanga, and Morongo fire departments.
Air support was also called in.
It appeared many of the homeowners were in compliance with the defensible space, such as Longnecker, who said he keeps the brush cleared around his property.
"We dodged a bullet last night," said Longnecker, whose property has a clear view of the preserve. "That is the closest we have ever been in the 12-13 years I’ve been here. We haven’t had anything that close at all."
Editor's Note: This article was updated at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 24 to accurately reflect the number of gallons held by Murrieta fire engines. Patch apologizes for the error.