Thousands of Irvine residents evacuated due to the Silverado Fire were allowed back home early Thursday morning as firefighters increased containment of the blaze that has injured two firefighters and blackened 13,390 acres to 32%.
On Monday, about 90,000 people were under evacuation orders as the skies above Irvine filled with smoke from the wind-fanned fire in eastern Orange County.
All evacuation orders and warnings related to the Silverado Fire were lifted Thursday around 11 a.m., Cal Fire announced.
Abe Hwang was among the evacuees who saw skies darken during the fire's early hours.
"You just look out the window and it seems like the end of the world," Hwang said. "You don't really question maybe I'll take a chance and try to stick around."
Kalin White never hesitated. She is pregnant with a due date in late November.
"Not even fore a millisecond," White said. "I pinged my boss... turned off my computer, grabbed our suitcases and just started going.
"That was probably my biggest concern -- just don't go into labor."
She and her husband spent two nights in a hotel with their two cats.
Those tense moments on Monday and Tuesday were due largely to shifting winds and red flag conditions in the area. Conditions have calmed Thursday.
"Fire spread has slowed due to the decrease in winds and (the rise in) humidity over the fire area," according to a statement from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as CAL FIRE, which is in charge of the firefighting effort.
While more than 69,000 buildings were threatened by flames, none were destroyed.
The Frank R. Bowerman Landfill in Irvine was damaged in the fire, according to Orange County Waste & Recycling, which owns and operates the landfill.
"OCWR staff have reported significant damage to the environmental control and stormwater infrastructure, resulting in multiple spot fires throughout the landfill property," OCWR said in a statement Wednesday.
No structures or heavy equipment were damaged, however, and no injuries were reported.
High winds, which handicapped firefighters when the fire broke out Monday, were much less of a factor on Wednesday.
"I haven't seen a big push. It's a light breeze, but nothing significant," firefighter and CAL Fire spokesman Edwin Zuniga said, adding firefighters are not engaged in any active fire fronts. "That tells us the fire activity is very minimal."
The repopulation Wednesday morning of parts of Irvine was a "testament to the hard work of all firefighters on the ground and in the air the have worked hard the past two days to protect life and property," according to Orange County Fire Authority's Steve Concialdi, who added that no homes have been damaged or destroyed as a result of the Silverado Fire.
At its height, 70,000 people were under evacuation orders in Irvine and another 9,500 evacuated in Lake Forest, according to the OCFA and Lake Forest officials.
About 1,240 personnel were assigned to fight the fire, Concialdi said. They're backed up by at least 14 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, according to OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy.
The fire erupted at 6:47 a.m. Monday in the area of Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads in the Santa Ana Mountains.
Late Monday, Southern California Edison told California officials that a lashing wire may have contacted its overhead primary conductor, sparking the fire. SCE sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission on Monday night acknowledging it had overhead electrical equipment in the area where the blaze broke out.
Five firefighters have been injured in the Silverado blaze, Fennessy said. Two are in critical condition and the three others have been treated for minor injuries at local hospitals and released, the fire chief said.
Those wishing to donate to the injured firefighters can contribute to the OCPFA Fallen Firefighters Relief Fund at www.ocfirefighters.org.
The two firefighters critically injured are 26 and 31 years old. Both sustained second- and third-degree burns about 12:15 p.m. Monday, one over 65% of his body and the other over half his body, Fennessy said.
Both firefighters were intubated at OC Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, he said.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said con artists are using the fires to trick residents into thinking they're donating to a good cause. Police and fire agencies will never call for donations, so people should hang up on anyone purporting to represent police and fire seeking donations, Barnes said.
The Santa Ana Zoo was sheltering about 150 animals from the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park that were moved out because of both the Silverado and Blue Ridge wildfires.
Full containment isn't expected until Nov. 10.
The Silverado Fire is one of two major fires burning in Orange County this week. The Blue Ridge Fire burning in Yorba Linda has destroyed a structure, damaged seven others, burned 14,334 acres and was 23% contained early Thursday morning as evacuated residents were being allowed to return home.