A wildfire driven by gusting Santa Ana winds broke out in Silverado Canyon early Monday, closing Santiago Canyon College while forcing evacuations and critically injuring two firefighters.
At 6:47 a.m., a fire was reported in the Silverado Canyon area of Orange County, a few miles from SCC’s mountainous campus. The blaze grew to 7,200 acres by 4:45 p.m. and remained at 0% containment. Over 90,000 residents in Irvine and Lake Forest are now under mandatory evacuation orders.
Marissa Elliott, English professor at Santa Ana College, was one of the residents affected by the evacuations.
“We received an alert on our phones at 9 a.m. It was just like the Amber Alerts, so it was a little shocking,” said Elliott. “We weren’t able to see the flames, just massive amounts of smoke and ash.”
Rancho Santiago Community College District officials issued a text alert to students and faculty at 9:25 a.m., noting that the fire was being monitored but posed no risk to the nearby Santiago Canyon College at the time. At 11:50 a.m., a follow-up text announced the closure of SCC “out of an abundance of caution.”
It is the second time in three years that SCC has closed because of brush fires. The school also closed during the Canyon Fire 2 in 2017, which scorched several parks, including the neighboring Irvine Regional Park and Peter’s Canyon Park.
“We’re always cautious that there could be a shift in winds, so we are putting that into our minds when we are planning for down the road,” Captain Greg Barta, Public Information Officer for the Orange County Fire Authority, said about the campus closure.
OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy said during a Monday afternoon announcement that two unidentified firefighters, ages 26 and 31, were in “grave condition” on ventilators, with second and third-degree burns covering over 50% of their bodies.
In an interview with el Don, KTLA 5 Meteorologist Vera Jimenez explained what causes a Santa Ana wind event and what to expect over the next 24 hours.
The winds continue to gust through tonight, but the winds will calm down tomorrow. It will still be a Santa Ana wind event, but it will not be as strong.
Part of the reason is that the air mass that will be moving in tomorrow will not be as cold. A temperature change generates winds. The temperature difference is connected to the pressure of a particular air mass.
Because that air mass was so cold, there was an extreme pressure gradient, and that is why those gusty winds hit speeds upwards of 80 and 90 MPH winds.
The National Weather Service in San Diego reported winds at about 88 MPH. Jimenez said it will be a swift event. The fire will continue even if the wind dies down, and that is because there is so much dry fuel out there, Jimenez said.
el Don staff writer Matt Weiner contributed to this story