Weary Orange County residents face another round of wildfire evacuations

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Stephanie Lai
·4 min read
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A helicopter makes a water drop on a Santa Ana wind-driven Bond fire
A helicopter makes a water drop on the wind-driven Bond fire near Irvine Lake in Silverado Canyon. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

For the second time in five weeks, Patrick Day packed up his photo albums, clothing and important documents and prepared to evacuate his Orange County home. Nearby, the Bond fire was rapidly chewing through canyon country.

The 51-year-old’s Lake Forest neighborhood of two-story stucco homes was littered with deflated Christmas blowups and tinsel and lights hung from balcony railings Friday morning as ash fell like snow from the December sky.

“It’s shocking that fire season is still going on into December," Day said. "It seems like every time there’s winds, a fire breaks out."

The latest blaze, the Bond fire, erupted Wednesday night. By midday Thursday, it had exploded to more than 7,000 acres with 0% containment.

In late October, the fast-moving Silverado fire burned through roughly the same area, searing 13,400 acres and forcing tens of thousands of evacuations before firefighters got the blaze under control.

“So much of the hillside burned in the last fire and there’s so little left to burn, so I’m not so sure how big of a risk there is to my home,” Day said of the current fire.

Still, his wife, who awoke to a voluntary evacuation notice around 2 a.m., started packing in the middle of the night. Day and his family were ready to leave by 10 a.m. and planned to stay at a friend’s hotel in Anaheim.

Sepehr Roshan of Pomona was also awoken early Thursday, with a notice that his aunt’s home was in an evacuation zone. She has abdominal cancer, and evacuation proved difficult five weeks ago during the Silverado fire. The air quality did not help her health, so the 53-year-old drove to Orange County to help his family find accommodations and prepare to leave if needed.

Air quality near the fire took a nosedive Thursday. The Environmental Protection Agency monitoring site Air Now showed Orange, Irvine, Tustin and other areas near the Bond fire hovering in the unhealthy air quality range and advised people to reduce time outdoors and avoid strenuous activities.

“She’s bed-resting right now, but it’s tough," Roshan said. "She doesn’t really want to leave her house because it’s her comfort zone,” Roshan said. “We made sure all the windows and doors are closed and the air purifier is on at all times.”

Up the street, Donna Budman was monitoring the smoke outside her home of 28 years. The faint sound of sirens and loudspeakers from sheriff's vehicles echoed as they patrolled the area.

Her neighborhood has been threatened by wildfire three times since she moved in — twice in the last several weeks.

“This neighborhood is full of original homeowners,” she said, “and for my kids, this is their home. This is all they know. We all have that sense of home, I think.”

Budman said she and her family weren't planning to evacuate. She is watching the pine trees north of her home. If the threat level rises, her family is ready to evacuate, but they plan to bunker down in the meantime.

Her main worry was the Wi-Fi cutting out while her daughter was trying to finish a college exam.

“Maybe we have a false sense of security because of last month’s fire burning a lot of the vegetation already," she said, "but it's a good reminder that we need to be ready, and we are.”

Mandatory evacuation orders were in effect for Silverado, Modjeska, Williams, Black Star and Baker canyons and portions of Portola Hills and Foothill Ranch, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Voluntary evacuation warnings have been issued for areas spanning from Trabuco Canyon to north Tustin. The latest map of evacuation areas is available here.

A temporary Red Cross evacuation point has been set up in Lot 2 of Santiago Canyon College, 8045 E. Chapman Ave., Orange. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities said no congregate shelter was available, and they urged evacuees "to seek safety with family/friends or in a hotel."

Judy Smith, a 48-year-old from Lake Forest, stood by her car outside the Red Cross area Thursday afternoon. She had anticipated spending the week isolating at home after developing a mild cold and showing pre-COVID-19 symptoms. Instead, she spent hours in her car trying to find hotel accommodations with a separate room for her daughter, who was perched in an adjacent car.

“We’ll be OK. It’s an unfortunate timing,” Smith said. “I’m going to see what I can do to isolate from my daughter.”

Around 70 cars had come for assistance by 1 p.m., said Red Cross officials, who were prepping to find a new location as the evacuation zone was encroaching on their locale.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.