California on Edge as Devil Winds Whip Up Wildfire Danger Statewide

In this view from Newport Boulevard in North Tustin, the morning sun rises through the smoke of fire in the canyons east of North Tustin on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. Firefighters were aggressively battling a vegetation fire that broke out in the hills near Silverado in Orange County as strong wind gusts pushed it. (Mark Rightmire/The Orange County Register via AP)

(CN) — A wind-driven brush fire in Southern California quickly burned over 4,000 acres and triggered evacuations for 60,000 people Monday morning as powerful winds kicked up across the already wildfire-beleaguered state.

At least 500 firefighters worked aggressively to suppress the fast-moving Silverado Fire burning northeast of Irvine, though firefighting aircraft are currently grounded due to high winds, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

The fire ignited just before 7 a.m. Monday, with strong winds fanning flames that consumed dry vegetation near Silverado Canyon and Limestone Canyon Regional Park.

The so-called Santa Ana winds swept across much of Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange and Riverside counties with gusts topping 90 miles per hour in LA, according to the National Weather Service

Strong winds are pushing the Silverado Fire west and Cal Fire reported 0% containment as of Monday afternoon.

Irvine Mayor Christina L. Shea released the list of schools included in the city’s mandatory evacuation area and said residents can contact emergency officials for resources. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday afternoon the state received a Fire Management Assistance Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will boost availability of resources in fighting the Silverado Fire.

The fire is threatening more than 1,300 homes and businesses, according to fire officials.

The Orange County Fire Authority also announced two firefighters were severely burned while battling the blaze.

The brush fire broke out as red flag warnings remain in effect across much of the Golden State. More than 4,000 firefighters continue to battle 22 larger wildfires, according to CalFire, while 27 new blazes sparked across the state Sunday.

Red flag warnings indicate high winds, low humidity and other conditions could very easily spark massive blazes across barren landscapes where fuel has accumulated during dry spells. 

In Northern California, strong winds clocked in at 30 miles per hour with gusts expected to reach up to 70 miles per hour. 

Cal Fire also issued a red flag warning through Tuesday for the Southern Sierra region, Kern County mountains, Inyo County and the Mojave Desert.

California is still reeling from the more than 8,600 wildfires — including 23 that became major wildfires — that have scorched the state already during this year’s historic wildfire season.

More than 9,000 homes and businesses have gone up in flames and 31 people lost their lives due to the blazes, Cal Fire said. 

And because powerful winds can also blow over or weaken trees that later down power supply lines across the state, the state’s largest utilities began initiating preemptive power shutoffs Sunday.

On Friday, Pacific Gas & Electric announced it would cut power to nearly a half-million homes and businesses across 38 counties, though winds were not as strong or widespread as initially feared and only about 355,000 customers across 34 counties had their power shut off.

The utility began turning the electricity back on in some areas Monday and expected power to be restored to most customers by late Tuesday.

Southern California Edison shut off power to nearly 22,000 of its customers and has issued shutoff advisories to at least 93,000 more as strong winds buffet the region.

“During these events, we will proactively turn off power in high fire risk areas to reduce the threat of wildfires,” the utility said on its website. “Turning off our customers’ power is not something we take lightly, but (public safety power shut off) events are one of the ways we can better ensure the safety of the public, our customers, and our employees.”

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