More than 70,000 Orange County residents have been forced from their homes by a wind-whipped wildfire that severely injured two firefighters and was only 5% contained Tuesday.
The Silverado Fire had blackened 11,200 acres by Tuesday morning, with 70,000 people under evacuation orders in Irvine and another 6,000 evacuated in Lake Forest, according to the Orange County Fire Authority. More than 750 firefighters have been deployed to battle the flames, and they’ll be receiving assistance from 14 helicopters, an OCFA spokesperson said.
Unlike most of the day on Monday, firefighters on the ground are being aided by water drops from helicopters, OCFA Capt. Thanh Nguyen said.
“I saw several of them this morning,” Nugyen said.
“It’s windy, but not as bad as yesterday,” he added. “Because we’re getting helicopters we’re optimistic, but until we get the results it’s all hands on deck.”
Firefighters are not concerned the Silverado fire would merge with the Blue Ridge blaze in Yorba Linda, Nguyen said.
“Unless we had some weird weather pattern I don’t see them catching up to each other,” Nguyen said.
“We’ve been fortunate to not lose any structures yet,” OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy said Monday evening.
Evacuation orders have been issued for the Jackson Ranch and Williams Canyon area, the OCFA said at 6:39 a.m. Tuesday. Silverado, Modjeska, and Trabuco Canyons along Live Oak Canyon are under evacuation warning, a spokesperson for the agency said.
At 6:40 a.m. the OCFA announced an evacuation warning for Mission Viejo in the areas of El Toro Road to the north, Marguerite Parkway to the west, Upper Oso Reservoir to the east, and Los Alisos Boulevard to the south.
The fire erupted at 6:47 a.m. Monday in the area of Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads.
Late Monday, Southern California Edison told California officials that a lashing wire may have contacted its overhead primary conductor, sparking the fire. SCE sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission on Monday night acknowledging it had overhead electrical facilities in the area where the blaze broke out.
“We have no indication of any circuit activity prior to the report time of the fire, nor downed overhead primary conductors in the origin area,” SCE said in the letter. “However, it appears that a lashing wire that was attached to an underbuilt telecommunication line may have contacted SCE’s overhead primary conductor which may have resulted in the ignition of the fire.”
In Irvine, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for the area between Great Park and Bake Parkway, and north of Toledo until the city limits; from Irvine Boulevard south to Trabuco Road, and from Jeffrey Road East to Portola High School; areas north of Irvine Boulevard between Jamboree Road and Bake Parkway.
Irvine Mayor Christina Shea said the city opened eight facilities to shelter evacuated residents and several quickly filled up.
Irvine Police Department Chief Mike Hamel said city officials were working with the American Red Cross to provide overnight shelter for residents with no place to go. The city’s animal shelter was open to house pets.
According to the city of Irvine, evacuation centers were established at:
— University High School: 4771 Campus Dr
— Woodbridge High School: 2 Meadowbrook
— Las Lomas Community Center: 10 Federation Way
— Turtle Rock Community Center: 1 Sunnyhill, 92603
— University Community Center: 1 Beech Tree Lane
— Quail Hill Community Center: 35 Shady Canyon Drive
— Los Olivos Community Center: 101 Alfonso
— Harvard Community Center: 14701 Harvard
— Rancho Senior Center: 3 Ethel Coplen Way
Irvine Boulevard remains closed from Alton to Sand Canyon. All areas, including roadways, north of Irvine Boulevard remain closed as part of the mandatory evacuation order, and Great Park Boulevard is closed east of Sand Canyon.
All schools in the Irvine and Tustin Unified school districts will be closed Tuesday, including distance learning classes in Tustin Unified.
High winds compromised the aerial firefighting effort, with all aircraft grounded by mid-morning Monday due to gusts, which rendered water drops ineffective while also making flying treacherous for pilots. Winds of 20 mph-40 mph were reported, with gusts up to 60 mph.
“This is a tough fire,” Fennessy said. “We’re experiencing very high winds, very low humidity… Any time winds are that bad you can’t fly, and that certainly has an impact on both hand crews and bulldozers and firefighters at the end of those hose lines.
“Air attack is very important, but still it’s the firefighters on the ground that put out that fire.”
Gusty winds were expected to continue Tuesday, but at weaker speeds than Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
Two OCFA firefighters were hospitalized with severe burn injuries and remained in critical condition, OCFA Capt. Jason Fairchild said. Officials have been told the next 24 to 48 hours will be critical in their recovery, Fairchild said. They are 26 and 31 years old. Both sustained second- and third-degree burns about 12:15 p.m. Monday, one over 65% of the body and the other over half the body, Fennessy said. Both firefighters were intubated at OC Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, he said.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to their families and their speedy recovery,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “It just shows the extraordinary heroism of these fine men and women who literally put their lives on the line.”
The two firefighters were “at the heel of the fire where it started,” Fennessy said. “I know them personally. They’re gravely injured. Their families are with them. I was with them when their families arrived. Obviously, it’s very emotional. We’re giving them all the support we can.”
Newsom announced a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help provide resources and a 75% reimbursement for firefighting costs.
The southbound Riverside (91) Freeway to the Foothill Transportation Corridor (241) toll road was closed and the northbound 241 was closed 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.
OCFA officials said the flames jumped the 241 Freeway shortly after 9 a.m. Monday.
The fire sent 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 conditioners to filter the air.
On Tuesday morning, fire officials said they expected lighter winds — in the 10-15 mph range — than on Monday.
A map of areas under evacuation orders or warnings is available at ocsheriff.gov/commands-divisions/field-operations-investigations-command/emergency-management/resources-during.