Winds Die Down, Aiding in Fight Against Silverado Fire

Two firefighters remain hospitalized with burns suffered during the battle against a fire that forced 91,000 people in the Irvine area to evacuate.

What to Know

  • The Silverado Fire began Monday in eastern Orange County and quickly spread west, forcing evacuations in Irvine.
  • Two firefighters who suffered burns remain hospitalized.
  • Southern California Edison said it is investigating whether an equipment failure sparked the fire.

Tens of thousands of eastern Orange County residents remain under evacuation orders Tuesday as firefighters work to protect homes from a nearly 12,000-acre brush fire.

The Silverado Fire began Monday morning and spread behind a cold wind blast from the desert that raced ferociously through Southern California's mountain passes. Flames quickly spread near Irvine and Lake Forest.

Containment was at 5% Tuesday afternoon.

The fire burned a hillside below Peter Frankudakis' home in Lake Forest. It's about the third fire he's seen in the area since he moved to the community in 1995. That includes the 2007 Santiago Fire, which burned more than a dozen homes and about 28,000 acres.

Thankfully, we have such amazing firefighters in California.

Lake Forest resident Peter Frankudakis

"But 2007 was probably the worst -- it came right up to the fence line," Frankudakis said.

His family evacuated during that fire, returning the next day to find their home still standing.

"Thankfully, we have such amazing firefighters in California," Frankudakis said.

OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy said early Tuesday that no structures have been destroyed in the Silverado Fire.

The strongest winds Tuesday were expected during the morning. Gusts will diminish into the evening, providing some respite from this week's red flag conditions as firefighters try to increase containment lines.

Flames burned into a Lake Forest neighborhood overnight. Michelle Valles reports for Today in LA on Tuesday Oct. 27, 2020.

About 91,000 residents have been evacuated. A homeowner in Lake Forest said the wind appeared to be shifting flames away from his neighborhood Tuesday morning.

“I’m in a pretty safe zone,” he said. “This burned about seven years ago, so the fuel is probably a little bit lower than it was back then. We had a lot of embers drop on the house back then.”

Two firefighters, ages 26 and 31, suffered second- and third-degree burns Monday. Both hand crew members remained hospitalized.

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 started at about 7 a.m. Monday in the area of Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads. No structures have burned.

The Silverado Fire was possibly started by utility lines. Beverly White reported on NBC4 News on Oct. 6, 2020.

High winds compromised the aerial firefighting effort. All aircraft we’re grounded by mid-morning due to gusts, which rendered water drops ineffective while also making flying treacherous for pilots. Winds of 20 mph-40 mph were reported, with gusts up to 60 mph.

"Unfortunately, the winds are going to be an issue again," said NBC4 forecaster Belen De Leon. "Fire danger is still an issue today."

Red flag fire conditions are expected through Tuesday. Morning gusts were clocked at about 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.”

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.

Evacuation Orders

Irvine opened eight facilities to shelter evacuated residents and several quickly filled up. City officials were working with the American Red Cross to provide overnight shelter for residents with no place to go.

Click here for an evacuations map.

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

By Tuesday morning, evacuation warnings extended to Silverado, Modjeska and Trabuco canyons along Live Oak Canyon.

Schools in the area were also evacuated, Davies said.

The city's animal shelter was open to house pets.

Evacuation Centers

Evacuation center were located at the following sites.

  • University Community Center, 1 Beech Tree Lane
  • Quail Hill Community Center, 39 Shady Canyon Drive
  • Los Olivos Community Center, 101 Alfonso Drive
  • Harvard Community Center, 14701 Harvard
  • Rancho Senior Center, 3 Ethel Coplen Way
  • Las Lomas Community Center, 10 Federation Way
  • Turtle Rock Community Center, 1 Sunnyhill
  • Village Church of Irvine, 77 Post

All schools in the Irvine and Tustin Unified school districts will be closed Tuesday, including distance learning classes in Tustin Unified.

Irvine schools were to remain closed for Wednesday.

Road Closures

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 closed 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.

The Riverside (91) Freeway was also closed in the area north of the 241 Freeway.

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

Air Quality

The fire sent a major plume of smoke over the entire region, creating unhealthy air across a wide area. The Orange County Health Care Agency urged residents in affected areas to stay indoors, limit outdoor activity, keep windows and doors closed and run air conditioners to filter the air.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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