Amid red-flag conditions brought on by gusting winds and dangerously low humidity, a wildfire raced across terrain in the Santiago Canyon area Monday, forcing evacuations of 60,000 people in the Orchard Hills area, threatening structures and blocking key roadways.
The blaze erupted at 6:47 a.m. in the area of Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads, and within an hour it had scorched roughly 50 acres. The fire exploded to more than 2,000 acres with no containment by 10:45 a.m.
Winds were compromising the aerial firefighting effort, with all aircraft grounded by mid-morning due to gusts that rendered water drops ineffective, while also making flying treacherous for pilots.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for the Orchard Hills community north of Irvine Boulevard from Bake Parkway to Jamboree Road. The evacuation order affected roughly 20,000 homes and 60,000 residents, according to Irvine police Sgt. Karie Davies. Schools in the area were also evacuated, Davies added.
According to the city of Irvine, evacuation centers were established at:
— University Community Center, 1 Beech Tree Lane;
— Quail Hill Community Center, 39 Shady Canyon Drive;
— Los Olivos Community Center, 101 Alfonso Drive;
— Harvard Community Center, 14701 Harvard;
— Rancho Senior Center, 3 Ethel Coplen Way; and
— Las Lomas Community Center, 10 Federation Way.
By late morning, the University and Quail Hills community centers were aloready filled, as was the Rancho Senior Center.
The city and Irvine Unified School District announced mandatory evacuations of Northwood High School and Portola Springs, Eastwood, Stonegate, Loma Ridge, Canyon View and Santiago Hills elementary schools. Voluntary evacuations were issued for Brywood, Northwood, Cadence Park, Beacon Park, Cypress Village and Woodbury elementary schools, according to the IUSD.
Tustin Unified School District evacuated Orchard Hills School and Hicks Canyon and Myford elementary schools. Orchard Hills students were taken to Beckman High School, where they can be picked up by their parents. Hicks Canyon and Myford students were released to parents at the school sites.
Although structures were reported to be threatened and there were some reports of buildings already burned, fire authorities had not yet confirmed any structural damage. Aerial footage from the scene showed fire crews dousing flames that appeared to have destroyed a commercial structure near the 241 toll road.
There were no reports of any injuries.
The southbound Riverside (91) Freeway to the Foothill Transportation Corridor (241) toll road was closed and the northbound 241 was close at Portola.
The Eastern Transportation Corridor (133) northbound was closed at Irvine and eastbound Chapman-Santiago Canyon was closed at Jamboree and Santiago Canyon from Silverado Canyon was closed, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Florentino Olivera.
“It’s bad,” Olivera said of the traffic backing up on the Santa Ana (5) and 91 freeways, as thousands of people tried to flee the area. “The fire’s moving pretty fast so our closures are moving too as it’s jumping (roads).”
Southbound state Route 91 was also closed in the area north of the 241 Freeway.
Orange County Fire Authority officials said the flames had jumped the 241 Freeway shortly after 9 a.m.
The fire was sending a major plume of smoke over the entire region, creating unhealthy air across a wide area. The Orange County Health Care Agency urged residents in affected areas to stay indoors, limit outdoor activity, keep windows and doors closed and run air conditions to filter the air.
Southern California Edison had power cut off to 440 customers in Orange County late Monday morning due to the wildfire threat, but another 12,792 customers were under consideration for power shutoffs to prevent fueling the blaze.
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