LOS ANGELES – Afast-growing wildfire prompted the evacuation of 60,000 residents in Irvine, a posh city nestled in a brushy area of Southern California’s Orange County, fire officials said Monday.
More than 500 firefighters turned out in force to battle the flames that quickly blackened more than 4,000 acres after breaking out in the Silverado Canyon area, the Orange County Fire Authority said.
Two members of a fire hand crew were badly burned fighting the fires, the OCFA said. The two, ages 26 and 32, suffered second- and third-degree burns on at least half of their bodies.
As if that wasn’t enough, another fire broke out in the afternoon in Chino Hills, above Yorba Linda neighborhoods. Neither of the fires had yet burned any homes.
At first, it appeared the Silverado Fire might be contained to thick brush in less populated areas near Irvine, an upscale city situated south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego. When firefighters arrived on the scene about 6:45 a.m. PST, it was only 10 acres.
But the flames were fanned by winds blowing at a steady 20 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 70 mph. Later in the morning, the OCFA said the fire and jumped a major artery that had served as a natural fire break, Highway 241, and was threatening neighborhoods in the area, prompting the evacuations.
In a setback, those high winds temporarily grounded water-dropping helicopters.
Kelsey Brewer and her three roommates decided to leave their townhouse before the evacuation order came in. The question was where to go in the pandemic. They decided on the home of her girlfriend’s mother, who has ample space and lives alone.
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“We literally talked about it this morning,” Brewer said. “There’s nowhere you can go to feel safe.”
Firefighters across Southern California had been bracing for the onslaught of Santa Ana winds and are accompanied by low humidity, said Jim Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
The desert-like conditions were expected to be “uncomfortably similar” to the circumstances that led to other destructive fires including 2019’s Kincade Fire, 2018’s Camp Fire and the Wine Country Fires of 2017, Mathews said. “This is our severe weather season right now: fire weather.”
It wasn’t just Southern California. “Extreme” fire weather also had Northern California, hundreds of miles away, in its grip. Some areas were rated as “critical.” Fortunately, the initial blazes were relatively small: Four new wildfires burned more than 300 acres Sunday afternoon in Shasta County, but on Monday, firefighters appeared to be gaining the upper hand.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company had cut power to thousands of homes as a precaution ahead of the dangerous conditions, which are expected to continue into early Tuesday. PG&E said in a statement that as many as 361,000 customers across 36 counties and 17 tribal communities could see interruptions.
Elsewhere in the West, damage assessment was underway near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado where the East Troublesome Fire burned through more than 300 square miles. Firefighters received help over the weekend by cold weather and snow.
Contributing: Associated Press