LOS ANGELES – A small but potent wind-driven 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.
Firefighters and water-dropping aircraft turned out in force to battle the flames that broke out in the Silverado Canyon area.
At first, it appeared the Silverado Fire might be contained to thick brush in less populated areas. When firefighters arrived on the scene about 6:45 a.m., it was only 10 acres.
But the flames were fanned by the gusty winds, spreading to hundreds of acres. Later in the morning, the Orange County Fire Authority said the fire had jumped a major artery that had served as a natural fire break, Highway 241, and was threatening neighborhoods in the area, prompting the evacuations.
Irvine is an upscale city situated south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego.
Firefighters across Southern California had been bracing for the onslaught of Santa Ana winds, which were expected to whip upward of 70 mph, 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 about 300 acres Sunday afternoon.
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.