IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — Evacuation orders were lifted Thursday for the last of some 130,000 Californians forced from their homes by two wind-driven wildfires.
Smoky air lingered over a large swath of Southern California and firefighters said they continued to make progress containing the blazes due to calmer weather after fierce winds and extremely dry conditions subsided.
Two firefighters remained hospitalized in critical condition after suffering second- and third-degree burns over large parts of their bodies while working together as part of a hand crew on the Silverado Fire near Irvine, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said. The cause of the incident is under investigation but nothing extraordinary is known to have occurred beyond the hazards always involved in the work, he said.
“They're still in a serious fight for their lives,” Fennessy told reporters.
The two fires that broke out Monday in the brushy hillsides east of Orange County cities prompted the evacuation of 130,000 residents, said Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes.
As firefighters beat back the blazes and the winds slowed, most people on Wednesday were allowed to return home. All mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted by Thursday, Barnes said.
The Silverado Fire was 51% contained after burning 21 square miles (54 square kilometers) of brush and one building about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Los Angeles. Just to the north, the 22-square-mile (54-square-kilometer) Blue Ridge Fire near Yorba Linda was 39% contained after destroying one building and damaged seven others.
A smoke advisory was issued after the fires and officials urged people to stay indoors if they smelled smoke or saw falling ash. At one point, the plume from the fires stretched more than 500 miles (805 km) into the Pacific Ocean, but the areas most impacted by smoke have been heavily populated Orange and southern Los Angeles counties, said Bradley Whitaker, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
The air quality remained unhealthy for sensitive groups in much of Orange County on Thursday. Calmer winds may keep smoke concentrated in areas near the fires overnight but air quality is generally expected to improve, he said.
The fierce winds that fanned the fires subsided Tuesday night and calmer breezes were expected into the weekend. But continued warm and dry weather that make for potentially dangerous wildfire conditions were forecast into November, with no rain expected.