Fast-Moving Orange County Fires Explode As Santa Anas Howl; 2 Firefighters Gravely Injured – Updated

A helicopter drops retardant on the Silverado wildfire in O.C. Mindy Schauer/The Orange County Register via AP

UPDATED on Monday at 7 p.m.: As of Monday evening, two wind-driven fires that sparked earlier in the day in Orange County had nearly doubled in size.

The Silverado Fire, which started near the canyon of the same name had blown up from 4,000 acres midday to 7,200 acres by nightfall. There were 500 firefighters deployed to battle the blaze, which was 0% contained. About 1,170 homes were under evacuation orders, according to the Orange County Fire Authority Public Information Officer.

Two firefighters were “gravely injured” fighting the Silverado Fire, according to Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy. “I know them personally,” continued the chief. “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.”

The Blue Ridge Fire near Yorba Linda was reported at 200 acres just after it sparked Monday afternoon. By nightfall, it had consumed 1,120 acres and was 0% contained. There were 200 fire personnel deployed on the blaze, according to the Orange County Fire Authority PIO.

PREVIOUSLY on Monday: Two Orange County Fire Authority firefighters were critically injured Monday battling a wind-fueled brush fire called the Silverado Fire. The blaze sent flames racing across terrain east of Irvine, CA, forcing evacuations of 60,000 people in the Orchard Hills area of the city located about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, threatening structures and blocking key roadways.

The blaze erupted at 6:47 a.m. PT in the area of Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads, and within an hour it had scorched roughly 50 acres. The fire exploded to more than 4,000 acres with no containment by 1 p.m. on a day when red-flag wind warnings blanketed the region.

The Silverado Fire spread quickly to the edge of the suburbs in Irvine, not far from the popular Irvine Spectrum Center and the Five Point Amphitheater, which typically hosts mid-level rock acts. Just a couple miles to the other side of the 405 Freeway lie miles of open hills split by Laguna Canyon Road. Downwind are the communities of Laguna and Newport Beach.

At least two other blazes sprang up nearby in the early afternoon. One on the border of Orange and Riverside Counties was being called the Blue Ridge Fire. According to Cal Fire, that blaze in eastern Yorba Linda, CA was at 200 acres.

Multiple engine crews from the city and Riverside County Fire Department were sent to the location and encountered flames moving rapidly west up a hillside, powered by 30 mph Santa Ana winds.

The fire spread into Orange County about 1:20 p.m., and the flames were approaching Yorba Linda, posing a threat to residences, according to reports from the scene.

The Orange County Fire Authority summoned water-dropping helicopters. It was doubtful air tankers would be deployed because of the intense winds, officials said.

An evacuation order was issued for the Yorba Linda area north of the Riverside (91) Freeway and east of Gypsum Canyon, which includes Bryant Ranch Elementary School, Orange County officials said. Chino Hills authorities have shut down Carbon Canyon Road at the county line and officials at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library are taking precautions, such as hosing down the roof, to protect the Yorba Linda birthplace of the 37th president.

Video footage from the area seemed to show structures involved.

Another smaller fire in San Bernardino was being called the Orange Fire. It was reportedly 10 acres at midday with a rapid rate of spread due to high winds. The blaze abated and then surged forward about 2 p.m., according to reports.

The weeks-old Bobcat Fire also still burned in the Angeles National Forrest. It was 95% contained and, as of Monday morning, did not seem to be likely to blow up as it did last month.

The two firefighters injured in the Silverado blaze were 26 and 31 years old. Both sustained second- and third-degree burns, one over 65% of the body and the other over half the body, according to Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy. Both firefighters were intubated at OC Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, he said.

“I got an opportunity to talk to members of their families and spend time with both firefighters in the emergency room while they were being treated, but they were not in a position where they could speak with me,” Fennessy said. “Please keep these firefighters in your thoughts and prayers, and their families. We’re going to do the same.”

Winds were compromising the aerial firefighting effort, with all aircraft grounded by mid-morning due to gusts that rendered water drops ineffective, while also making flying treacherous for pilots. Winds of 20-40 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.”

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for the Orchard Hills community north of Irvine Boulevard from Bake Parkway to Jamboree Road. The evacuation order affected roughly 20,000 homes and 60,000 residents, according to Irvine police Sgt. Karie Davies. Schools in the area were also evacuated, Davies added.

By late morning, many of the centers were already filled, and another shelter was being established at Village Church of Irvine, 77 Post.

The city and Irvine Unified School District announced mandatory evacuations of Northwood High School and Portola Springs, Eastwood, Stonegate, Loma Ridge, Canyon View and Santiago Hills elementary schools. Voluntary evacuations were issued for Brywood, Northwood, Cadence Park, Beacon Park, Cypress Village and Woodbury elementary schools, according to the IUSD.

Tustin Unified School District evacuated Orchard Hills School and Hicks Canyon and Myford elementary schools. Orchard Hills students were taken to Beckman High School, where they can be picked up by their parents. Hicks Canyon and Myford students were released to parents at the school sites.

Although structures were reported to be threatened and there were some reports of buildings already burned, fire authorities had not confirmed any structural damage as of mid-afternoon. Aerial footage from the scene showed fire crews dousing flames that appeared to have destroyed a commercial structure near the 241 toll road.

The southbound Riverside (91) Freeway to the Foothill Transportation Corridor (241) toll road was closed and the northbound 241 was close 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.

“It’s bad,” Olivera said of the traffic backing up on the Santa Ana (5) and 91 freeways, as thousands of people tried to flee the area. “The fire’s moving pretty fast so our closures are moving too as it’s jumping (roads).”

OCFA officials said the flames had jumped the 241 Freeway shortly after 9 a.m.

Southern California Edison had power cut off to 440 customers in Orange County late Monday morning due to the wildfire threat, but another 12,792 customers were under consideration for power shutoffs to prevent fueling the blaze.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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