A brush fire that exploded in eastern Orange County Monday morning as Santa Ana winds pummeled Southern California left two firefighters critically injured while thousands evacuated the Irvine area.
The blaze, dubbed the Silverado Fire, erupted in the Santa Ana Mountains around 6:45 a.m. at Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads. The flames spread to the south and southwest as forecasters predicted gusts of up to 60 to 70 mph.
The fire was initially reported at 10 acres, but it had grown to 4,000 acres by 1 p.m., and to 7,200 acres by 4:30 p.m., according to the Orange County Fire Authority. It’s 0% contained.
Southern California Edison said its equipment may have sparked the blaze as powerful winds prompted power to be cut to hundreds of thousands of people across the state as a safety precaution, the Associated Press reported.
The utility said in a report to the California Public Utilities Commission that it’s investigating whether a “lashing wire” which connects a telecommunications line to a support cable may have struck a 12,000-volt conducting line above it.
2 firefighters hospitalized with burns
Two of 500 firefighters who responded to the blaze suffered critical injuries and are currently intubated at the Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, OCFA said at 2:30 p.m.
The hand-crew firefighters are 26 and 31 years old, and at least half of their bodies were covered in second- and third-degree burns, according to the Fire Authority.
Thousands evacuate Irvine; Tustin residents on high alert
About 90,800 residents were evacuating the Irvine area, as of 4:30 p.m., Chief Shane Sherwood of OCFA said at an afternoon news conference. Around 9:30 p.m., the agency said 70,000 homes in Irvine and 6,000 homes in Lake Forest were under mandatory evacuation orders.
A mandatory evacuation was issued for areas north of Irvine Boulevard between Jamboree Road and Bake Parkway, and as of 1:30 p.m., for residents in the areas from Irvine Boulevard south to Trabuco Road, and from Jeffrey Road East to Portola High School. Additionally, the communities of Baker Ranch and Foothill Ranch in Lake Forest were under mandatory evacuations.
As of 5 p.m., a mandatory evacuation was also issued for the area between Great Park Boulevard and Bake Parkway, and north of Toledo Way until Irvine’s city limits.
Evacuation centers established at the following facilities remain open:
- Woodbridge High School
- Las Lomas Community Center
- Turtle Rock Community Center
- University Community Center
- Quail Hill Community Center
- Los Olivos Community Center
- Harvard Community Center
- Rancho Senior Center
Meanwhile, Tustin officials requested some residents and businesses to voluntarily evacuate.
“Be ready to go,” OCFA Capt. Greg Barta said. He asked residents to follow OCFA on Twitter for updates.
California Highway Patrol said that as of 7:35 p.m., officials blocked traffic in the following areas:
- Southbound 91 Freeway to the 241 Freeway
- Northbound 241 Freeway from Alton Parkway
- 241 Freeway not accessible from Portola Parkway/Irvine
- Northbound and southbound 5 Freeway to the northbound 133 Freeway
- Eastbound Chapman Avenue/Santiago Canyon Road closed at Jamboree Road
- Santiago Canyon Road from Silverado Canyon Road
At around 1 p.m., a spot fire by the Irvine Boulevard overpass sent massive flames up into the air as motorists traveled through thick smoke near the 133 Freeway.
A dozen of campuses, including those within the Irvine and Tustin unified school districts, were evacuated after the fire ignited. Parents and guardians were notified, according to officials.
UC Irvine also suspended on-campus operations due to smoke from the fire.
All Irvine Unified School District schools will remain closed on Tuesday.
SoCal Edison shuts off power
Southern California Edison confirmed that it was in the process of shutting off power in the Trabuco Canyon area.
The utility worked on cutting service to about 18,000 customers, mostly in San Bernardino County, due to fire risk posed by the winds, a spokesperson told KTLA Monday morning.
Santa Ana winds
Forecasters expect winds to peak in the morning but warned that they will remain gusty throughout the day. The National Weather Service urged communities between Tustin and Foothill Ranch to “stay vigilant.”
The Weather Service recorded gusts up to 84 mph in Freemont Canyon, about 6 miles away from the blaze.
“All air support has been grounded due to high winds. If you are in the evacuation area please evacuate immediately,” fire officials said in a tweet.
Thick smoke billowed over residential areas that surround the fire, triggering a health warning from the O.C. Health Care Agency.