Two firefighters ‘gravely injured’ as Southern California wildfires prompt evacuations

·4 min read

The ferocious Silverado Fire burning Monday in Orange County doubled in size by early afternoon, leaping to 4,000 acres as hundreds are battling a blaze that has left two firefighters critically injured. A few miles to the north, a second windswept blaze, the Blue Ridge Fire, threatened homes and sent yet more residents fleeing.

Firefighters waged a pitched battle much of Monday against the dangerous, fast-moving brush fires separated by only a few miles in the hills and brush of Orange County near the cities of Irvine and Yorba Linda.

Two members of an Orange County Fire Authority hand crew critically injured fighting the Silverado Fire were taken to an area hospital covered in second- and third-degree burns, fire authority officials said via Twitter. The incident happened about 12:15 p.m., officials said.

In a news conference just after 4:30 p.m., fire officials said the firefighters, ages 26 and 31, were “gravely injured” and their families were with them at the hospital. The first firefighter has second- and third-degree burns over 65% of the body. The second firefighter has burns over half of the body, Orange County fire officials said.

Some 60,000 residents in Irvine’s Orchard Hills neighborhood were told to leave their homes before noon Monday as what began as a 10-acre vegetation fire before 7 a.m., grew to 500 acres, then 2,000 acres and leapfrogged a state highway. It remains uncontrolled.

Approximately 20,000 homes have been evacuated because of the Silverado Fire, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

Just before 2 p.m., the Blue Ridge Fire sparked immediate evacuation orders for Yorba Linda. That blaze on the northeast edge of the city of 68,000, 17 miles north of Irvine, was 200 acres at 2 p.m., but estimates from city of Anaheim officials and others peg its spread at more than 700 acres and threatening multiple structures.

Raw video from a Los Angeles television station KTLA helicopter posted to YouTube just after 2:30 p.m., showed wind-fed flames from the Blue Ridge Fire quickly moving through low lying brush.

A Twitter post Monday afternoon from the Richard Nixon Foundation showed a worker spraying water on the 37th president’s Yorba Linda birth home.

“We are taking steps to make sure Yorba Linda’s most famous building, the Birthplace of President Nixon, is protected,” the post read. “We will continue to monitor throughout the evening.”

The Blue Ridge’s flames reached at least two homes in Yorba Linda, igniting the rooftops Monday afternoon near Blue Ridge Drive and Big Horn Mountain Way in Yorba Linda, the Orange County Register reported. It was not known if anyone was hurt.

Gusting Santa Ana winds were pushing the Silverado Fire burning out of control in the hills east of Irvine. The blaze grew to approximately 2,000 acres by 11 a.m., Los Angeles television station CBS2 reported. Approximately 500 firefighters are on the scene of what news reports have described as an “aggressive” fire fight.

Video from the Orange County Fire Authority posted to its Twitter feed at 1 p.m. Monday show dense, blowing smoke and windswept flames chewing through dry brush toward an unidentified roadway.

“The wind’s crazy,” resident Ruby Johnson told CBS2. She said she was preparing to evacuate. “You can replace clothes and things, but you can’t replace your life, so we’re ready to go.”

Gusts as high as 70 mph were clocked in Orange County and aircraft helping ground crews fight the blaze have been grounded, the fire authority said.

The Silverado Fire was first reported as at 10 acres at 6:47 a.m. in the area of Santiago Canyon Road and Silverado Canyon Road in Irvine, but quickly grew to 500 acres and jumped Highway 241 by 10:30 a.m., forcing crews to shut down the toll road and tell the tens of thousands living in the Orchard Hills neighborhood east of Irvine to get out, the Orange County Register reported.

“It’s a little bit of everything to be honest,” from tricky, high winds to dry brush and rugged terrain, fire authority Capt. Ben Gonzales told the Los Angeles Times. “Now that we have aircraft grounded, it does make it a little more difficult but we have numerous resources on scene, and our goal is to control the fire and protect homes.”

Students at a dozen Orange County school campuses were also told to leave, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

There is no containment. It’s unclear how the fire started. No injuries have been reported.

High winds have prompted red flag warnings across Southern California, just as winds in Northern California have kept firefighters on high alert.

High Santa Ana winds forced Ontario International Airport to close for a time before noon Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Weather conditions in the Southland are being called the most dangerous fire weather of the year, the Los Angeles Times reported, in a state where more than 4 million acres have already been blackened by wildfire.