The biggest fire to hit Orange County in nearly a decade destroyed at least 24 structures Monday and threatened hundreds more, forcing several thousand people to evacuate dozens of neighborhoods in Anaheim, Orange and Tustin.
The so-called Canyon Fire 2, named because flames scorched dry, rugged hills just to the west less than a month ago, burned more than 6,000 acres and by late evening was less than 10 percent contained.
Fire officials believe the latest fire began in Coal Canyon near the 91 freeway, although what ignited the blaze was uncertain.
It was the smaller of two blazes raging Monday in California. In the Napa and Sonoma area north of San Francisco, at least 10 people were killed and 1,500 structures destroyed by a fire that as of late Monday had charred more than 57,000 acres.
No fire-related deaths were reported locally; one firefighter sustained non-life threatening injuries.
Still, the speed and visibility of the local fire — and wind gusts of up to 70 mph on Monday — strained nerves and resources. At least two elementary schools were evacuated Monday and several schools in Orange and Tustin are expected to be closed Tuesday. Also, traffic between Orange and Riverside counties was crushed by the emergency, with the eastbound 91 Freeway closed at Imperial Highway.
County fire officials took the first report around 9:40 a.m., when flames were spotted off the 91 near Gypsum Canyon. But within an hour the sky over much of central county was thick and brown as dry fuel and north-blowing winds helped the fire grow quickly. By noon, authorities estimated the blaze to be about 800 acres; by 2 p.m. it was at least 2,000 acres and had spread toward the county border near Riverside.
Though helicopters and planes dropped water and flame retardant, much of the battle was hand-to-hand. About 500 firefighters were engaged as of late Monday, and authorities said about twice that number might be on the lines by early Tuesday.
“We are probably, by tomorrow morning, going to be stretched as thin as we can be, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to fight the fire,” said Steve Beach, chief of Cal Fire’s Riverside division.
Locally, firefighters moved as fast as the fire, reaching neighborhoods just in time to urge resident to evacuate and to beat back flames that, often, were perilously close to homes.
Vicky Walker witnessed exactly that.
The Anaheim Hills resident stood armed with a hose and prepped to fight the flames pushing into her neighborhood, though she also loaded three dogs and 12 tortoises in a car for a quick getaway. But before made the decision to leave, firefighters arrived and took over the battle.
Later, as the sun set and the fire in her area calmed, Walker embraced a firefighter and thanked him for saving her home — which stood next door to the smoldering rubble of a home that couldn’t be saved.
“I’m grateful,” Walker said. “I’m grateful to the firemen; the police officers. And grateful to God.”
Others didn’t have time to make a decision about leaving.
“My backyard was burning,” said Sarah Abdel-Nasar 20, who evacuated her family’s home on Armstrong Court in Anaheim.
Still others left their homes Monday not sure what they’ll find when they return.
“We’re packing up right now,” said Pam Kraus, who lives in the Tustin neighborhood of Cowan Heights, as she choked back tears.
“You just can’t know if the fire’s going to reach you or not.”
With several thousand people forced out of their homes, emergency shelters opened at El Modena High in Anaheim and at the East Anaheim Community Center on Santa Ana Canyon Road.
At the community center, dozens of people were preparing to stay the night Monday, some with pets in tow.
“I looked up and saw the smoke and thought, “Oh, not again,” said Matt Singer, a city recreation leader who grew up in Anaheim Hills and said the fire Monday was as close as he’s been to flames in the dozens of fires he’s lived through.
“It looked like hell on earth,” Singer said.
Some of the areas hit by fire or evacuated are also home to horses and other large animals. On Monday, equestrians were hitching up trailers and hoping to find a spot for their horses.
“We are ready, we just need to be told where to go,” said Dee Dee Friedrich, president of the Yorba Linda Country Riders, said early in the day.
Later in the day, many horse owners found safety from the Large Animal Rescue Team, a San Juan Capistrano group, and at Los Alamitos Racetrack.
But in Los Alamitos, more than 10 miles from the flames, there was little escape from the smoke.
At noon, parents of children attending Weaver Elementary School received a message saying that the campus was canceling recess and physical-education classes and moving lunch indoors for the day because of the bad air quality.
Vice President Mike Pence, in the area for a fundraiser in Newport Beach, chatted at John Wayne Airport with first responders and tweeted about it.
source: daily news