Two firefighters remain hospitalized with critical injuries after suffering burns as they battled a brush fire that forced tens of thousands of people from their homes in eastern Orange County.
The Silverado Fire began Monday morning and, whipped up by powerful winds, quickly spread near Irvine and Lake Forest. About 91,000 residents in those communities were evacuated and at least 69,058 structures were threatened.
Tuesday night, authorities lifted Silverado Fire mandatory evacuation orders for Irvine residents south of Portola Parkway, east of the 133 Toll Road, west of Axis, according to the Irvine Police Department. Irvine Boulevard is closed Axis and Alton Parkway.
The firefighters, ages 26 and 31, suffered second- and third-degree burns. Both hand crew members remained hospitalized early Tuesday.
Three other firefighters were also injured, but were treated and released from the hospital.
“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,” said Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy. “Please keep these firefighters in your thoughts and prayers, and their families. We're going to do the same.
“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 Silverado Fire started at about 7 a.m. Monday in the area of Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads. Red flag conditions are in the forecast Tuesday, but winds are expected to diminish into the evening.
It was at 13,354 acres and 5-percent contained Tuesday night. Containment is expected by Nov. 10, 2020, according to CAL FIRE.
Late Monday, Southern California Edison told California officials that a lashing wire may have contacted its overhead primary conductor, sparking the fire. Edison sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission 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.''
The Silverado Fire is one of two major wildfires burning in Southern California. The Blue Ridge Fire broke out Monday in Corona and expanded into Orange County.
Historically, October is one of the worst months of the year for wildfires in California, due in large part to months of dry conditions and strong fall winds. But in 2020, the state has already seen five of its six largest wildfires during August and September.
As of Sunday, there were 20 major wildfires burning in California. More than 4 million acres have burned this year, far surpassing any previous yearly total on record.