An unattended cooking fire caused a wildfire that has been burning in an area of Riverside County since Saturday, prompting evacuations and air quality warnings, according to fire officials.
The Highway Fire burning in the Prado Dam area near Corona and Chino at one point threatened 200 homes, though officials lifted all evacuation orders late Sunday.
Improved weather conditions and control of the fire had helped improve the overall air quality in the region by Monday morning, but a smoke advisory was extended through the end of the day, anyway, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
As long as the situation continues to evolve there will be a chance of heavy smoke, according to AQMD.
By Monday morning, residents described pools clogged with ash and neighborhoods blanketed with soot.
"I've never seen anything like this before," Corona resident Mark Makram told KNBC-TV. "Ashes all over the houses, on the cars. It's ridiculous."
Austin Drissen, another Corona resident, told KPCC Monday his swimming pool still had a lot of ash even though his home was nearly two miles from the evacuation zone.
"The type of ash that's fallen down is just incredible, because it's not just little flakes of papery ash. We're talking like big old pine needles as long as your index finger and leaves that are just falling - you're almost kind of afraid to touch them because you don't know if they're still hot or not," Drissen said.
Drissen said he had friends among those who were ordered to evacuate, and he drove by the area after first hearing about the fire.
"It was kind of a frenzy. We could see everybody packing up all their stuff into their cars, a lot of people crying and getting out of town as fast as they could," he said. People were watering down their yards and roofs to help prevent them from catching fire, he said.
On Saturday night, the smoke was coming straight over his house, the sky was glowing an ominous orange, and it was hard to breathe, Drissen said, describing the early intensity of the fire. He said the images reminded him of the Hollywood disaster flicks "Dante's Peak" and "Volcano," and that he remembers coming home from a hockey game over the weekend and driving through a "shower of ash."
This story has been updated.