Thousands of evacuated Irvine residents in the path of the Silverado Fire were back home Thursday as firefighters increased containment of the blaze that has injured two firefighters and blackened 13,390 acres to 40%.
All evacuation orders and warnings were lifted Thursday morning and several highways were reopened.
“A lot of great work has been done over the last two days,” said Operations Section Chief Tim Ernst of the California Department of Forest and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). “We don’t anticipate either of the two perimeters (of the Blue Ridge and Silverado fires) moving much.”
Cal Fire, which is in charge of the firefighting effort, will focus on fortifying the positions of firefighters, cleaning up areas already under control and watching for flare-ups. Five helicopters were aiding firefighters on the ground with water drops.
Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said there has been no change in health of two firefighters who remain in critical condition.
“We’re still heavy at heart concerning our two firefighters,” Fennessy said. “I just left the hospital and was there late last night. They’re still in a serious fight for their lives and their families are holding up as well as you can expect.”
Fennessy said he asked Cal Fire to help investigate how the firefighters were hurt. The two had been with the agency for about a year and were at the heel of the blaze working on a hand crew, the chief said.
“The winds were extraordinary even by Santa Ana standards,” he said. “Fire spread is exceeding more than anything I’ve seen in my 44 years.”
Nothing unusual appears to have contributed to the situation. “This is a hazardous occupation,” he said. “As far as I know, there was nothing extraordinary that occurred that put them in any out-of-the-ordinary risk.”
Fennessy said he was grateful Cal Fire took command of the blazes because it allows him to spend more time with the families of the injured firefighters and their coworkers.
“Our hearts are heavy, but we’re optimistic and all of us are praying and hoping for the very best,” he said.
The Foothill Transportation Corridor (241) Toll Road in both directions is open from the Riverside (91) Freway to the Eastern Transportation Corridor (261) Toll Road; the 261 is also open from the 241 to the San Diego (5) Freeway; the 241 is also open from Alton Parkway to Oso Parkway and the southbound Laguna (133) Freeway is open from Irvine Boulevard to the 5.
While more than 69,000 buildings were threatened by flames, none were destroyed.
But the Frank R. Bowerman Landfill in Irvine was damaged in the fire, according to Orange County Waste & Recycling, which owns and operates the landfill.
“OCWR staff have reported significant damage to the environmental control and stormwater infrastructure” resulting from multiple spot fires throughout the landfill property, OCWR said in a statement Wednesday.
No structures or heavy equipment were damaged, however, and no injuries were reported.
High winds, which handicapped firefighters when the fire broke out Monday, were much less of a factor on Wednesday and Thursday.
The repopulation Wednesday morning of parts of Irvine was a “testament to the hard work of all firefighters on the ground and in the air the have worked hard the past two days to protect life and property,” according to Orange County Fire Authority’s Steve Concialdi, who added that no homes have been damaged or destroyed as a result of the Silverado Fire.
At its height, 70,000 people were under evacuation orders in Irvine and another 9,500 evacuated in Lake Forest, according to the OCFA and Lake Forest officials.
The fire erupted at 6:47 a.m. Monday in the area of Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads in the Santa Ana Mountains.
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 equipment in the area where the blaze broke out.
Five firefighters have been injured in the Silverado blaze, Fennessy said. The other firefighters were treated for minor injuries at local hospitals and released, the fire chief said.
Those wishing to donate to the injured firefighters can contribute to the OCPFA Fallen Firefighters Relief Fund at www.ocfirefighters.org.
The two firefighters critically injured are 26 and 31 years old. Both sustained second- and third-degree burns about 12:15 p.m. Monday, one over 65% of his body and the other over half his body, Fennessy said.
Both firefighters were intubated at OC Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, he said.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said con artists are using the fires to trick residents into thinking they’re donating to a good cause. Police and fire agencies will never call for donations, so people should hang up on anyone purporting to represent police and fire seeking donations, Barnes said.
The Santa Ana Zoo was sheltering about 150 animals from the Orange County Zoo, in Irvine Regional Park, that were moved out because of both the Silverado and Blue Ridge wildfires.
Full containment isn’t expected until Nov. 10.