A wind-driven brush fire in Silverado Canyon sparked by a house fire grew to 7,375 acres Friday but firefighters were able to increase the amount of vegetation cleared around the fire to 30% and some of the evacuated residents were allowed to return home.
Mandatory evacuations were in effect in the Modjeska, Silverado and Williams Canyon areas.
Evacuation orders were lifted for Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills west of El Toro and north of the 241 Toll Road.
All evacuation orders were lifted for Lake Forest but the city remained under an evacuation warning.
Voluntary evacuations remained in effect for the following areas:
— Borrego Canyon;
— Baker Ranch;
— Portola Hills;
— Live Oak Canyon;
— Trabuco Canyon;
— Rose Canyon;
— Valley Vista Way;
— Meadow Ridge Drive;
— Cowan and Lemon Heights.
Evacuees were strongly encouraged to stay with family or friends or in a hotel, the OCFA said.
“Due to COVID-19, no congregate shelter is offered,” the authority tweeted. There was a temporary Orange County Red Cross evacuation point at Santiago Community College later replaced by one at El Modena High School, also in Orange.
The Red Cross reported Thursday evening that 170 residents were provided with nearby hotel rooms.
Officials have also opened another Red Cross evacuation point at El Toro High School in Lake Forest.
Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy urged residents to be prepared to move when necessary to clear the way for firefighters to battle the blaze.
“Even if you don’t see smoke… If you have a concern the flames are a little bit too close, that’s enough to have your belongings prepared to evacuate,” Fennessy said. “You don’t have to wait for us to call.”
Authorities are also concerned about a number of power poles and lines felled by the gusts in the area that could also delay residents from re-entering their homes.
Two firefighters were injured battling the blaze. They work for the U.S. Forest Service, assigned to the Cleveland National Forest. They were released from a hospital Thursday night, according to the agency.
One was treated for a leg injury and the other sustained minor bruises, according to the Cleveland National Forest Service.
A total of 1,560 firefighters were assigned to the blaze along with 11 helicopters, according to the OCFA. Firefighters continued to mop up hot spots and improve containment lines Friday.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said about 60 deputies have been deployed to assist with evacuations, traffic control and security in evacuated areas. All the department’s deputies are on 12-hour shifts, he said.
“All days off are canceled to bring in all resources,” Barnes said.
Firefighters were investigating reports of multiple structures damaged or destroyed in the blaze, Nguyen said.
“We know a number of houses were damaged, potentially destroyed,” Fennessy said. “We just don’t have the details.”
Winds were blowing north to northeast 25 mph to 35 mph with gusts up to 65 mph and isolated gusts reaching up to 80 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
However, the winds died down some by Thursday afternoon, OCFA Capt. Paul Holaday said.
The blaze is in the same area as the Silverado Fire in October, but there’s still plenty of brush to fuel the flames now, Nguyen said.
“This time, it started in Silverado Canyon on the east side of Santiago Canyon Road and made its way to Santiago Canyon and jumped the road,” Nguyen said.
Orange County Fire Authority personnel responded to the 29400 block of Silverado Canyon Drive at about 10:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Ground crews were assisted in the fight by fire helicopters and a helitanker, the OCFA said. More than 240 firefighters were on the scene, the OCFA said. The agency was in unified command with the U.S. Forest Service.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department announced that the county’s Emergency Operations Center was activated to support the firefighting effort. A public information hotline number was activated — 714-628-7085 — for residents to call for information on resources available for them.
Residents were urged to stay informed of the most current information by monitoring @OCFA_PIO on Twitter. Also, a public safety map with evacuation orders and warnings was available at bit.ly/2Vy231m.
Santiago Canyon Road from Jackson Ranch Road to the Eastern Transportation (241 Toll Road) Corridor was closed.
Toll Roads 133, 241 and 261 were closed due to the fire, but were reopened about 6:40 p.m. Thursday.
A red flag warning for Inland Orange County was cancelled at 11 a.m. Friday, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Liz Schenk.
Forecasters issued a fire weather watch for Sunday and Monday when winds are expected to return. They may not be quite as bad as this week, with the highest gusts 40-50 mph in the foothills and 20-35 mph in the valleys but vegetation is even more dry after the latest wind event, Schenk said.
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