'There’s nowhere you can go to feel safe': 2 wildfires in California's Orange County force 85K evacuations; 2 firefighters badly burned

Chris Woodyard and Jordan Culver, USA TODAY
·3 min read

LOS ANGELES — Two rapidly spreading wildfires prompted the evacuation of more than 85,000 people in two cities in upscale sections of Southern California's Orange County, fire officials said Monday.

More than 500 firefighters turned out in force to battle the Silverado Fire that quickly blackened more than 7,200 acres near Irvine. As a precaution, 70,000 people were ordered to evacuate from their homes, Fire Capt. Greg Barta said.

Two members of a fire hand crew were badly burned, the Orange County Fire Authority said. The two, ages 26 and 32, suffered second- and third-degree burns on at least half of their bodies.

"They are gravely injured. Their families are with them," said OCFA Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. "We are giving them all the support we can."

As if that wasn't enough, the Blue Ridge Fire broke out in the afternoon in Chino Hills, above Yorba Linda neighborhoods, burning 3,000 acres and forcing the mandatory evacuation of more than 15,000 people from nearly 4,700 homes, according to Chino Valley Fire. Yorba Linda is home to the Richard M. Nixon National Library and Museum, but there were no reports that it was immediately under threat.

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.

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."

A map showing mandatory and voluntary evacuation areas in Orange County due to Silverado and Blue Ridge fires as of 7:45 p.m. on Oct. 26, 2020.
A map showing mandatory and voluntary evacuation areas in Orange County due to Silverado and Blue Ridge fires as of 7:45 p.m. on Oct. 26, 2020.

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.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California wildfires: Silverado, Blue Ridge fires push 85K evacuations