Two major wildfires raged in Southern California on Tuesday as fierce winds continued to push the blazes toward populated zones, forcing almost 100,000 residents to flee the area under emergency evacuation orders.
The two fires in Orange County have already burned nearly 20,000 acres and doubled in size overnight, deluging the region in smoke and ash while further illustrating the unsparing nature of the 2020 fire season in California, which has seen massive wildfires rage across the west.
The Silverado Fire has already burned at least 11,200 acres after breaking out in the Santa Ana Mountains on Monday morning and is only 5 percent contained. The blaze near the city of Irvine has been fueled by strong Santa Ana winds, with the National Weather Service warning of gusts between 50 and 60 miles per hour.
Roughly 750 firefighters have been dispatched to the region to fight the Silverado Fire. On Monday, two firefighters were severely burned while battling the fire, according to the Orange County Fire Authority. The firefighters, ages 26 and 31, remain in critical condition and were placed on ventilators after suffering second- and third-degree burns across half their bodies.
“This is tough for me, tough for all my firefighters and certainly for the families of my two injured firefighters,” OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy said during a news conference. “They’re gravely injured … We’re doing all we can for them.”
While the cause of the blaze remains unclear, Southern California Edison is investigating whether its electrical equipment caused the fire, which broke out on state land. In a report to the state Public Utilities Commission, the company noted that a “lashing wire” connecting a telecommunications line to a support cable could have struck the 12,000-volt primary conducting line above, resulting in the fire breaking out.
Last month, the private utility company filed a report that noted its equipment was also part of an investigation into the cause of the Bobcat Fire, which consumed over 115,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest near Pasadena and remains active after burning for more than a month.
The Blue Ridge Fire later erupted on Monday in the Santa Ana Canyon, an infamous wind tunnel, and immediately spread from the west end of Corona toward Yorba Linda and the city’s Hidden Hills community, forcing the evacuation of around 5,000 homes.
By Tuesday morning, the blaze had grown to 8,000 acres and was 0 percent contained.
The ferocious Santa Ana winds – which saw gusts of 80 mph and even 96 mph in high-elevation zones such as the San Gabriel Mountains – are expected to die down on Tuesday afternoon, potentially offering an opportunity for firefighters to gain an upper hand on the out-of-control blazes.
The wind has also blanketed the streets of East L.A. and parts of the San Gabriel Valley with ash from the nearly-contained Bobcat fire. The National Weather Service issued a red flag across multiple counties through Tuesday afternoon.
“We have very strong winds and very low humidities, and that’s causing ideal conditions for a very strong Santa Ana event with high fire danger,” National Weather Service meteorologist David Sweet told Los Angeles Times. “This is very typical for this time of year, but this one is very strong.”
Experts have warned that the worsening fire season in California and across the West is connected to climate change, with carbon dioxide emissions and other heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels directly leading to warmer and drier conditions.
In 2020 alone, California has seen fires burn over 4.1 million acres, destroying 10,488 homes and other structures and leading to the deaths of at least 31 people.
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