Firefighters injured in Silverado Fire, possibly sparked by SCE equipment
SILVERADO (KUSI) – Two Orange County Fire Authority firefighters were hospitalized Tuesday with severe burn injuries sustained while battling the Silverado Fire, which has blackened 7,200 acres and forced the evacuations of nearly 91,000 residents in the Irvine and Lake Forest areas and threatened structures and blocked key roadways.
The injured firefighters are 26 and 31 years old. Both sustained second- and third-degree burns about 12:15 p.m. Monday, one over 65% of the body and the other over half the body, according to Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy. Both firefighters were intubated at OC Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, he said.
“I got an opportunity to talk to members of their families and spend time with both firefighters in the emergency room while they were being treated, but they were not in a position where they could speak with me,” Fennessy said.
“Please keep these firefighters in your thoughts and prayers, and their families. We’re going to do the same.”
The two firefighters were “at the heel of the fire where it started,” he said.
“I know them personally,” Fennessy said. “They’re gravely injured. Their families are with them. I was with them when their families arrived. Obviously, it’s very emotional. We’re giving them all the support we can.”
The blaze erupted at 6:47 a.m. Monday in the area of Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads, Fennessy said.
Late Monday, Southern California Edison told California officials that a lashing wire may have contacted its overhead primary conductor, sparking the fire.
Edison sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission Monday night acknowledging it had overhead electrical facilities in the area where the blaze broke out.
“We have no indication of any circuit activity prior to the report time of the fire, nor downed overhead primary conductors in the origin area,” SCE said in the letter. “However, it appears that a lashing wire that was attached to an underbuilt telecommunication line may have contacted SCE’s overhead primary conductor which may have resulted in the ignition of the fire.”
Irvine Mayor Christina Shea said the city opened eight facilities to shelter evacuated residents and several quickly filled up.
Irvine Police Department Chief Mike Hamel said city officials were working with the American Red Cross to provide overnight shelter for residents with no place to go. The city’s animal shelter was open to house pets.
“We’ve been fortunate to not lose any structures yet,” Fennessy said Monday evening.
High winds compromised the aerial firefighting effort, with all aircraft grounded by mid-morning due to gusts, which rendered water drops ineffective while also making flying treacherous for pilots. Winds of 20 mph-40 mph were reported, with gusts up to 60 mph.
“This is a tough fire,” Fennessy said. “We’re experiencing very high winds, very low humidity… Any time winds are that bad you can’t fly, and that certainly has an impact on both hand crews and bulldozers and firefighters at the end of those hose lines.
“Air attack is very important, but still it’s the firefighters on the ground that put out that fire.”
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for the Orchard Hills community north of Irvine Boulevard from Bake Parkway to Jamboree Road Monday morning.
The evacuation order affected roughly 20,000 homes and 60,000 residents, according to Irvine police Sgt. Karie Davies. Schools in the area were also evacuated, Davies said.