Swirling Wind Gusts Continue to Fuel Silverado Fire in Orange County

Swirling Wind Gusts Continue to Fuel Silverado Fire in Orange County
Firefighters battle the Silverado Fire in Irvine, Calif., on Oct. 26, 2020. (Tim Knight/City of Irvine)
Sarah Le

A day and night of swirling wind gusts coupled with dry weather pushed the Silverado Fire to swell thousands of acres overnight, burning at least 12,600 total acres north of Irvine in Orange County, California, as of mid-afternoon on Oct. 27.

“We have seen some really extraordinary wind events in the last 48 hours,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom at an Oct. 27 press conference. “The challenges with low humidity and dry air is creating these rather extreme and dangerous fire conditions throughout the state of California.”

Orange County recorded gusts up to 88 mph, said Newsom, while other parts of California experienced even higher numbers.

According to authorities, as of mid-afternoon on Oct. 27, the fire was at least 5 percent contained, while 70,000 homes in Irvine and 8,000 homes in Lake Forest remained under mandatory evacuation orders.

The Silverado Fire started early on the morning of Oct. 26. At around 12:15 p.m. that afternoon, two Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) firefighters, ages 26 and 31, were critically injured trying to contain the blaze on the ground.

One firefighter had 65 percent burns across their body, and the other had 50 percent. Both individuals received second- and third-degree burns and were intubated at the hospital.

OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy said at another press conference on Oct. 27 that he knew both firefighters personally and said “they’re extremely strong.”

“It’s tough for any firefighter, certainly any fire chief, to feel this helpless when you’ve got part of our fire family fighting for their lives,” he said. “Their families asked me to extend their appreciation. ... There’s just been this amazing outpouring of gratitude and assistance to help. They’re just overwhelmed.”

Fennessy said the agency has requested an accident review team from the state to investigate the incident.

Three other firefighters also sustained minor injuries while fighting the fire. They were all treated at the hospital and released.

According to Orange County officials, more than 1,800 firefighters are engaged in battling both the Silverado blaze and the Blue Ridge Fire in nearby Yorba Linda.

 Orange County officials monitor response to the Silverado Fire in Irvine, Calif., on Oct. 26, 2020. (Tim Knight/City of Irvine)
Orange County officials monitor response to the Silverado Fire in Irvine, Calif., on Oct. 26, 2020. (Tim Knight/City of Irvine)

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said at the press conference that she declared a state of emergency due to the Silverado and Blue Ridge fires earlier that morning.

“I also ask the governor to declare a state of emergency and make all relevant funds available to Orange County responding agencies, community members, and businesses affected by these fires,” Steel said.

Newsom announced on Oct. 26 that the state had secured funds to support the efforts to fight both local fires through a Fire Management Assistance Grant  (FMAG) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to a press release.

The funding allows local and state agencies to apply for 75 percent reimbursement of eligible costs used for fire suppression.

More than 90,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Irvine and surrounding areas on Oct. 26, but by the afternoon of Oct. 27, some of those orders began to be canceled.

Authorities said everyone whose home is located south of Portola Parkway and west of the 133 Toll Road was authorized to return back to their homes.

Evacuation orders were still in place for areas north of Portola, and in the Great Park area east of the 133 Toll Road and north of Great Park Boulevard.

In addition, a new mandatory evacuation order was issued on Oct. 27 at around 1:20 p.m. for Modjeska Canyon, said the Orange County Sheriff Department (OCSD).

An evacuation map can be found here. For more information, residents can also call the Public Information Hotline at 714-628-7085.

A temporary evacuation location was set up on Oct. 27 for Mission Viejo residents at the Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center, said the OCSD.

A number of evacuation centers were also available in Irvine, but some were completely filled up. Check here for their locations.

All school instruction in the Irvine Unified School District was canceled on Oct. 27, and at 4 p.m. the district announced that all instruction had been canceled for Oct. 28 as well.

Meanwhile, 1,271 customers in Orange County were without power as part of a program to prevent additional wildfires, according to Southern California Edison (SCE).

The company sent a letter to California officials on the evening of Oct. 26 that said its electrical equipment may have helped start the Silverado Fire.

"We have no indication of any circuit activity prior to the report time of the fire, nor downed overhead primary conductors in the origin area,'' stated SCE in the letter.

"However, it appears that a lashing wire that was attached to an underbuilt telecommunication line may have contact SCE's overhead primary conductor which may have resulted in the ignition of the fire.''

City News Service contributed to this report.