Orange County Residents Go Back Home After Days of Wildfires and Uncertainty

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Cypress community park in Irvine. Irvine residents are coming back to their homes after evacuations orders.

Things began to quiet down in Orange County on Wednesday night, and people trickled back into their homes, after three days of wildfires, smoke, evacuations and anxiety. 

On Thursday, all evacuation orders throughout the county had been lifted, and residents were authorized to repopulate their cities.

STORY LAST UPDATED: 12:23 p.m. Oct. 29


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Two blazes erupted on Monday — the Blue Ridge Fire, which threatened a section of north county that included parts of Yorba Linda and Brea (and Chino Hills in San Bernardino County); and the Silverado Fire threatening parts of the central/south county cities of Irvine, Tustin, Lake Forest and Mission Viejo.

The fires also posed risks to some of the county’s canyon communities, Modjeska and Trabuco, to name a few.

It was a rough few days for the many people ordered to flee their homes, not knowing when they would be allowed to safely return — and for those who were told to stay alert, not knowing whether they would be next to leave theirs behind.

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Kenneth Jackson, 63, stands at a roadblock leading to his home in Trabuco Canyon. Kenneth hadn’t been to his home in two days “in my 12 years of living here I have never been evacuated,” he said, holding his driver license after showing his proof of residence and trying to plead with Sheriff’s deputies to let him through. The evacuation warning in that area remained in effect as of Wednesday night.

Many found relief in a 5 p.m. Twitter announcement from the Orange County Fire Authority, which announced Wednesday that “All evacuation orders and warnings related to the #BlueRidgeFire have been lifted effective immediately.”

The Blue Ridge Fire had spread to more than 14,300 acres and was 30% contained as of Thursday morning, according to CAL FIRE. That was after the fire had been spreading at a fast rate since Monday.

The Silverado Fire erupted earlier that same day. By Thursday, the fire was burning nearly 13,400 acres and was 40% contained, according to CAL FIRE.

After mandatory evacuations were ordered for Irvine and Lake Forest starting Monday, both cities by Wednesday night had lifted the orders and began repopulating. Though evacuation orders remained in place overnight for the northern section of Lake Forest into Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills, as well as the areas around Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park and north of Trabuco Canyon.

Evacuation warnings were lifted for Mission Viejo. 

Then all evacuation orders for both fires were lifted on Thursday.

At least 100,000 residents — and their pets and animals — had been evacuated in total, over the course of the emergency, per fire authorities’ early counts. They didn’t have an updated figure as of Wednesday night.

Disaster officials don’t expect the fires to be fully contained until Nov. 10, according to CAL FIRE incident reports, but that timeline could change depending on weather patterns or other factors. 

The fires tested Orange County officials’ ability to respond to emergencies, especially as they’re already in the midst of another, the Covid-19 pandemic. 

OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC

Air quality was moderate to unhealthy in Lake Forest on Tuesday as the haze from the Silverado Canyon fires spread all across south Orange County. City officials across OC had advised people to stay indoors and avoid any outdoor physical activity if possible.

During one Tuesday news conference at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, local elected leaders spent most of their time repeating the same information and congratulating each other in front of the cameras a week before election day, leaving some viewers on social media confused.

The emergency also brought new attention to the county’s utilities infrastructure, after SoCal Edison quietly reported a faulty power line may have started the Silverado Fire.

Not to mention the last minute voter access adjustments that had to be made by the Orange County Registrar of Voters, as people turn in their early, mail-in ballots ahead of election day at unprecedented numbers.

The Blue Ridge Fire destroyed one structure completely and damaged seven. The Silverado Fire damaged none. 

No civilian injuries were reported for either fires. Though two hand crew firefighters battling the Silverado Fire were critically injured and hospitalized.

The local firefighters’ union has set up an official fundraiser for the injured firefighters on GoFundMe. 

It raised nearly $370,000 as of Wednesday night.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.