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 12,600 acres by Tuesday afternoon, with 70,000 people under evacuation orders in Irvine and another 9,500 evacuated in Lake Forest, according to the Orange County Fire Authority and Lake Forest officials. More than 750 firefighters have been deployed to battle the flames, and they’re receiving assistance from 14 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, OCFA Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said.
By Tuesday evening, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection would take command of the Silverado and Blue Ridge Fires, Fennessy said.
“We’ve got very capable incident management team staff here in Orange County and if we had the benefit of managing just one large fire we’d be fine, but when you have to manage two large fires … quite frankly, the complexity gets beyond our local capacity, so it’s great to have the state of California to lean on,” Fennessy said.
So far, five firefighters have been injured in the Silverado blaze, Fennessy said. Two are in critical condition and the three others have been treated for minor injuries at local hospitals and released, the fire chief said.
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.”
Fennessy said, “I had a chance to see them this morning and spend time with their families. I hired both of these firefighters and I know them personally. They’re extremely strong and having gotten to know their parents over the last 24 hours I can see where they got their strength. It’s tough for any firefighter, actually any fire chief, to feel this helpless when you got part of our fire family fighting for their lives. But I’m confident that they’re going to do all they can to fight through this. It’s just who they are.”
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.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes warned “looky loos” to stay out of the area because they can clog up roads needed for first responders to quickly respond to emergencies.
“We need these roads clear,” Barnes said. “They need to go on a very short timeline in an open roadway … And they cannot do that if people are driving into the area to get a closer look at the fire … If you think you’re going to come into the area to get a look we’re not going to let you in.”
The sheriff also said unscrupulous con artists are using the fires to trick residents into thinking they’re donating to a good cause, but Barnes said police and fire agencies will never call for donations, so people should hang up on anyone purporting to represent police and fire seeking donations.
Evacuation orders have been issued for the Jackson Ranch and Williams Canyon area, the OCFA said at 6:39 a.m. Tuesday. Silverado and Trabuco Canyons along Live Oak Canyon were under evacuation warnings, 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. With 554 homes in Mission Viejo under an evacuation warning, the city has opened up the Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center as a shelter, officials said.
Later Tuesday, a mandatory evacuation order was issued for residents of Modjeska Canyon.
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 were 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.
Gusty winds were expected to continue Tuesday, but at weaker speeds than Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
Newsom announced a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help provide resources and a 75% reimbursement for firefighting costs.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said she signed an emergency declaration Tuesday morning and asked the governor to also sign an emergency declaration to qualify for more state and federal funding.
Road closures as of Tuesday included the 133 Toll road northbound between the Santa Ana (5) Freeway and 241 Toll Road, and southbound between the 241 and the 5 Freeway. The 241 Toll Road is closed northbound from Oso Parkway to the Riverside (91) Freeway and southbound between the 91 and Lake Forest Drive.
The 261 Toll Road was closed northbound between Irvine Boulevard and the 241 and Santiago Canyon Road and southbound between the 241 and Santiago Canyon Road and Irvine Boulevard.
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.
A map of areas under evacuation orders or warnings is available at ocsheriff.gov/commands-divisions/field-operations-investigations-command/emergency-management/resources-during.
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