Evacuations Ordered as 1,600 Acres Burns in Cleveland National Forest

Firefighters are facing hot, dry weather as the fire burns through a canyon deep inside Cleveland National Forest

Mandatory evacuations were ordered Friday evening for a canyon area where a 1,600 acre brush fire was burning, Orange County Sheriff's officials said.

The fire broke out about 10:30 a.m. in the 30500 block of Silverado Canyon Road in a remote part of the Cleveland National Forest, about 20 miles east of Santa Ana, fire officials said.

The blaze was initially reported at about 15 acres, burning in Silverado Canyon near the Orange/Riverside County border, but grew to more than 1,000 acres by the afternoon, according to the U.S. Forest Service, which was leading the firefight.

No structures were immediately threatened.

"I didn't smell anything until the flames were outside when we looked," said Robert Walters who evacuated his home with his wife and dog, Jack. "I said, 'grab a bag, grab valuables and run.'"

Mary Feliz was worried about her daughter.

"I'm stuck out here," she said. "I can't get in there to get her, to bring her down. That's my biggest concern."

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued at 6 p.m. for residents living from 30500 Silverado Canyon Road east to the end of the canyon, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Some residents had already been voluntarily evacuating from the area.

The American Red Cross set up an evacuation center at El Modena High School, 3920 E. Spring St., in Orange.

A column of smoke could be seen from Irvine, Aliso Viejo, Lake Forest and other communities.

Fire crews said they were allowing the fire to burn to the canyon rim and would attack its flanks, said Capt. Larry Kurtz, of the Orange County Fire Authority.

"Fires that have happened in the past out here follow the same footprint," Kurtz said. "That helps us anticipate where the fire is going to be."

Water- and fire retardant-dropping aircraft  -- including helicopters and a heli-tanker -- responded to the location, deep in the forest's rugged canyons.

About 100 firefighting personnel were at the site, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

A few houses are located in the area, but no structures were threatened.

The fire appeared to be burning away from homes, but shifts in wind direction could change the fire's path.

The fire began during a stretch of dry, hot days in Southern California.

Triple-digit heat and dry conditions are expected through the weekend, but strong winds -- a major factor in a fire's rate of spread -- were not reported Friday in the Silverado Canyon area.

"It's very hot, but fortunately there's no wind," Kurtz said.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for portions of Orange and Riverside counties due to the blaze. The areas "directly" affected by the smoke, according to the agency, include Saddleback and Capistrano valleys of Orange County and the Corona, Norco and Lake Elsinore areas of Riverside County.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said the agency sent four planes to the scene, including air tankers to drop retardant on the flames.

Tauhir Jones, U.S. Forest Service spokesman for the Cleveland National Forest, said the USFS had sent 10 engines, two water-dropping helicopters, one helitanker, one hand crew and two water tenders to the scene.

A pair of DC-10 retardant-dropping planes were also aiding in the firefighting effort.

A stretch of Silverado Canyon Road was closed in the area, but it reopened by mid-afternoon for residents as the flames moved deeper into the canyon.

The Orange County Emergency Operations Center established an information hotline at 714-628-7085.

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