As killer wildfires raged across Northern California, there was some good news down south as firefighters Thursday expanded their containment of the four-day-old, 9,217-acre Canyon Fire 2 in Orange County’s Anaheim Hills.
Officials said they expect to have the once-roaring, out-of-control Southern California fire completely encircled sometime Saturday.
The giant blaze had at one time cast an eerie orange glow across the skies over Disneyland and much of the region.
Thousands of people evacuated after the fire broke out Monday have returned home, and schools that had not reopened as of Wednesday were scheduled to do so Thursday. Fire crews increased the containment figure to 60 percent on Wednesday.
Most evacuation orders prompted by the fast-moving blaze, which destroyed 13 homes and two other structures and damaged 21 homes, were lifted around 5 p.m. Tuesday, with much of the blaze doused on the west side of the 241 toll road, allowing crews to focus their efforts on the eastern flank. The rest were lifted Wednesday.
A portion of the toll road damaged by the blaze will remain closed indefinitely, according to Lisa Telles of the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which manages toll roads in Orange County.
Northern California residents weren’t as lucky as most people in Orange County, as at least 23 people have died, more than 170,000 acres have been scorched and numerous homes burned to the ground in Sonoma, Napa and other wine-country counties north of San Francisco.
Those Northern California fires are still out of control and thousands more residents are being evacuated. Hundreds of people are reported missing.
But in the Southern California Orange County blaze, the flames damaged electrical cables, signs, guardrails, fences and traffic control devices, Telles said. There is no estimate when work will be done on repairing the damage and clearing the road of fire retardant, she said.
In Anaheim, Santa Ana Canyon Road between Woodcrest and Gypsum Canyon roads remains closed, fire authorities said.
Two firefighters suffered minor smoke inhalation battling the blaze.
Residents returning to their homes were being advised to check their property for fire and water damage to ensure structures are safe.
Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi cautioned Wednesday morning that the exact figures on the number of structures destroyed and damaged were “fluctuating,” and said only about 25 percent of possibly affected structures had been inspected so far.
Concialdi also urged residents to drive carefully in the affected areas, where more than 1,650 firefighters were deployed in the mopping up effort.
Authorities acknowledged hundreds of prisoners from the Fenner Canyon Conservation Camp in Valyermo in the Mojave Desert who helped extinguish hot spots and clear brush Wednesday, preventing the blaze from kicking up again, The Orange County Register reported.
“The inmates provide a valuable resource,” Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Larry Kurtz told The Register of the near 500 minimum-security inmates who assisted in the fight. “It seeds the march toward our goal of 100 percent containment of this fire.”
The inmates must volunteer to work in fire camps and meet other requirements and are paid $2 for each day in camp and $1 an hour while they are on a fire line, the newspaper reported.
Firefighters got a leg up on the blaze Tuesday thanks to diminished northeast winds, the onset of moist onshore winds, stepped-up manpower on the fire lines and the deployment of numerous water-dropping aircraft. Containment increased from 5 percent Tuesday morning to 60 percent by 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. It erupted Monday about a mile from the area scorched by the recent Canyon Fire, which blackened more than 2,600 acres and took more than a week to contain. The new fire initially broke out near the Riverside (91) Freeway east of Gypsum Canyon Road, near the Coal Canyon flashpoint of September’s Canyon Fire, according to the OCFA.
The House of Representatives approved funding Thursday for wildfire efforts in California, according to Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Irvine.
The bill approved $576.5 million for firefighting efforts in the state, her office said.
“This week, the community of Anaheim Hills was devastated by the quick- moving Canyon Fire 2,” Walters said. “Although 23 structures were destroyed and dozens more damaged, I am thankful no lives were lost in this disaster. Unfortunately, the fires in Northern California are expected to worsen in the coming days. These fires have already claimed numerous lives, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and have caused unimaginable pain and suffering.”
—City News Service