• Sun. Nov 29th, 2020

Two firefighters badly burned as two wildfires in California’s Orange County prompt evacuation of 71,000 homes – USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES – Two rapidly spreading wildfires prompted the evacuation of more than 71,000 homes 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 flames that quickly blackened more than 7,200 acres after breaking out in the Silverado Canyon area. As a precaution, residents in 70,000 homes were ordered evacuated, Fire Capt. Greg Barta 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.

The Silverado Fire forced the evacuation of 60,000 Irvine residents.

“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 1,100 acres. Barta said evacuations were ordered from 1,170 homes. 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.

Huntington Beach Fire Department Firefighters monitor the Silverado Fire in Irvine, Calif. on Oct. 26, 2020. The Silverado Fire forced the evacuation of 60,000 Irvine residents. Powerful winds caused the brush fire to grow to over 2,000 acres and grounded aircraft from deploying critical water drops.

In a setback, those high winds temporarily grounded water-dropping helicopters.

Fire ‘danger’:High winds, dry air, low humidity combine to create ‘dangerous fire weather event’ for California through Tuesday

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.” 

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.

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. 

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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 man leaves his home during a mandatory fire evacuation as smoke from the Silverado Fire fills the air in Irvine, Calif.

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.

Los Angeles County Firefighters contain The Silverado Fire in Irvine, Calif. on Oct. 26, 2020.

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.

More:Two largest wildfires in Colorado history are burning at the same time, 10 miles apart

Contributing: Associated Press