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60,000 told to evacuate as Orange County blaze grows exponentially

by Alma Fausto and Erika Ritchie, Orange County Register |

IRVINE, Calif. – Firefighters were aggressively battling a wind-driven blaze that broke out early Monday in the hills near Silverado Canyon and had quickly grown to 2,000 acres in a matter of hours, according to fire officials.

The blaze, dubbed the Silverado Fire, was first reported at 10 acres just before 7 a.m. By 9 a.m., fire authorities had issued a mandatory evacuation in Orchard Hills affecting about 60,000 residents in the community east of Irvine.

Those living on Irvine Boulevard from Bake Parkway to Jamboree Road were ordered to leave as thick smoke blanketed the sky and air quality decreased.

Firefighters were initially battling the fire with air support, the Orange County Fire Authority said, adding that it was moving at a “moderate rate of speed.”

There was no early indication on how the fire started though forecasters had warned last week that the Santa Ana winds would return heightening, ever-present fire dangers.

The strong winds hindered firefighting efforts: Officials said helicopters battling the Silverado fire had to be pulled from the blaze around 10:30 a.m. because the winds made water drops ineffective.

The fire was first reported at Santiago and Silverado Canyon roads. Authorities reported the blaze had jumped the Highway 241 toll road, prompting parts of it to be closed, according to the California Highway Patrol.

In addition to affecting those living in the adjacent neighborhoods, the fire weather also threatened more than 117,000 Southern California Edison customers in six Southern California counties with a power shutoff, according to the agency.

More than 18,000 customers already had power shut off because of the elevated fire risk.

Irvine Regional Park was closed for fire operations to assist during the fire. Peters Canyon and Santiago Oaks regional parks were closed because of the high winds, the county parks department said.

City officials with Orange and Anaheim said via social media that there was no threat to homes in their communities but were monitoring the fire’s movement.

Residents on social media shared images of dark-orange skies and smoke moving quickly past, driven by the wind. Many pointed out it was difficult to breathe as ash rained from the thick air.

Some schools were moving students to different campuses and or releasing students for the day.

Wind gusts were at around 45 miles per hour in the area, according to the National Weather Service.

Wind knocked down trees, and residents were out cutting them apart to get them out of the way of escape routes in case evacuation orders came.