Two wildfires were raging in Southern California on Tuesday, nearly doubling in size overnight and forcing hundreds more people to flee during what has been the worst fire season ever recorded in the state.
The fires in Orange County have put more than 90,000 people under emergency evacuation orders, many of them in the City of Irvine. Their homes are being threatened by the Silverado Fire, which has now burned across 11,200 acres, and the Blue Ridge Fire, which has a footprint of about 8,000 acres.
Roughly 700 firefighters have been battling the blazes, which so far are known to have damaged only one home, but the area of concern widened as winds blew the fires to new areas, including toward Chino Hills, a city of about 84,000 people that sits at the corner of Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside Counties.
The Orange County Fire Authority, which is the lead agency battling both fires, said it hoped that softening winds would slow the fires’ pace and allow firefighters to use aircraft to contain the blazes. The Silverado Fire is just 5 percent contained and the Blue Ridge Fire is completely uncontained.
On Monday, powerful gusts had thrashed through the area as fast as 80 miles per hour, making it harder for firefighters to contain the fires’ spread and for residents to evacuate. They have also spread smoke through the region.
Two firefighters were gravely wounded by the Silverado Fire, and they were intubated on Monday after receiving second- and third-degree burns across most of their bodies, said Brian Fennessy, the fire authority’s chief. The firefighters are 26 and 31 years old.
Investigators have not determined what ignited the fires, but on Monday, Southern California Edison filed its second wildfire incident report this year, saying that its equipment might have caused the Silverado Fire. Last month, the utility filed a report that said its equipment was part of an investigation into the cause of the Bobcat Fire, which burned more than 115,000 acres near Pasadena.
The 2020 fire season has seen enormous wildfires rage across California and other states in the West. Experts have linked the worsening fire season to climate change, as emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels have led to warmer and drier conditions.
More than five million acres have burned across California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington State. In California alone, fires have burned over 4.1 million acres, destroyed 10,488 homes and other structures and led to the deaths of at least 31 people.