By Melissa Diaz Hernandez

The Bonita Fire started at 1:16 a.m. Friday forcing the evacuation of Mountain Center.
Photos by Jenny Kirchner

           Update from Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department at 6 p.m. Friday: "FINAL CAL FIRE UPDATE FRIDAY 1/15/2021 6:00 P.M. The Bonita Fire is 715 acres and is now 20% contained. All Evacuation ORDERS and road closures are lifted. Please use caution when driving in the fire area and yield to personnel and equipment so they may safely continue work to fully contain and control the fire." The agency also reported it will be transferring command of the incident to the U.S. Forest Service.

Update from Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department at 1:30 p.m. Friday: "The Evacuation Order has been lifted for all residents West of Highways 74 and 243. An Evacuation Order remains in place for residents East of Highways 74 and 243 from Keenwild Fire Station to the north and Keen Camp Rd. to the south. Please use caution returning to the area as fire crews continue to work."

Firefighters responded to a wildland fire Friday at 1:16 a.m. at the 28000 block of Bonita Vista Drive in Apple Canyon (between Mountain Center and Garner Valley). The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

            The fire forced the evacuation of Mountain Center and road closures at Morris Ranch Road and Borco Street on Highway 74 and Highway 243 at Saunders Meadow Road. The road closures were lifted by 12:30 p.m. Friday with the exception of Highway 74 from Mountain Center to Lake Hemet, which has a one-lane law enforcement escort.  

            Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department reported the fire at 200 acres and 0% containment at 3:20 a.m., forcing an evacuation order for Mountain Center. Within 15 minutes, the fire grew 50 acres.

            At 6:35 a.m., the agency reported the fire at 600 acres with 5% containment.

According to the agency’s website, “the first arriving engine company reported 15 acres of heavy vegetation and pine trees involved.” More than 250 firefighters have responded to the incident.

            The Banning Community Center, 789 N. San Gorgonio Ave., is serving as an evacuation center. For large animal evacuations, go to the San Jacinto Animal Campus at 581 S. Grand Ave. in San Jacinto. Go to, for updated evacuation information.