(USA TODAY) – Tens of thousands of residents in California’s Orange County remained under evacuation orders Tuesday as two wildfires continued to threaten upscale neighbourhoods.
The Silverado Fire had consumed 17 square miles with only 5% containment, prompting an expansion of the evacuation orders to include sections of Mission Viejo, the Orange County Fire Authority reported.
About 70,000 Irvine residents were under evacuation order and another 6,000 in nearby Lake Forest. In the afternoon, however, fire officials said some could begin returning.
To the east, the Blue Ridge Fire has burned about 23¾ square miles with no containment as of Tuesday morning. Officials said more than 8,700 homes are under evacuation.
They include 5,958 in the Chino Hills, 2,500 in Yorba Linda and 276 in Brea. Ten Yorba Linda homes were damaged by the flames, but no structures had been reported lost in either of the two blazes.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that in total, more than 90,000 Orange County residents are under evacuation orders. He said winds were clocked at 88 mph in the county,. They gusted to 96 mph in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains.
He said the fact that there has been so little damage is a “testament to the extraordinary work being done by local firefighters, not just our state firefighters.”
About 1,000 firefighters were battling the Blue Ridge Fire and another 750 were on the lines of the Silverado Fire, OCFA reported. It was there that two firefighters on a hand crew were both critically burned Monday. Both suffered second- and third-degree burns on more than half of their bodies.
Newsom said both are in critical condition. Their efforts underscore the dangers, showing “the extraordinary heroism of these men and women that go to the front lines,” he said.
In Orange County, winds were expected to drop to 10 mph with gusts up to 20 mph later in the day, the OCFA said.
A drop in the winds allowed the use of 14 retardant-dropping helicopters to resume after having been suspended Monday.
Cause of the fires was under investigation, but the area’s major electric utility reported it could have been the cause of one of them.
Two lines may have touched, creating a spark that set off the Silverado Fire, Southern California Edison reported to regulators. At 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, it appeared a cable lashed to a telecommunications wire came into contact with a power line carrying 12,000 volts above it, said SCE spokesman Chris Abel.
The report came despite SCE being among the state’s utilities that are preemptively cut power to 38,000 users when high winds are forecast to try to prevent wildfires – and the potential liability for any damages they cause with them.
Newsom said 42 fires have been reported in the state over a 24-hour period as the winds picked up with virtually all quickly brought under control by firefighters.