Improving weather conditions helped firefighters in Southern California gain ground overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday on a pair of wildfires that drove tens of thousands of residents from their homes and left two firefighters in critical condition.
The Blue Ridge Fire, which has burned more than 23 square miles, was 16% contained as of Wednesday morning.
The Silverado Fire, which has scorched about 21 square miles, was 25% contained.
Both blazes are burning in Orange County California. The fires prompted massive evacuations and widespread power outages as the state saw its most dangerous fire weather of the year so far from Sunday into Tuesday. Gov. Gavin Newsom said 42 wildfires were ignited and 90,710 people were evacuated over a 24-hour period ending Tuesday morning, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
While red flag warnings were lifted, the threat isn't over. California's rainy season is still to come, but forecasters say it could be drier than usual.
“This is already a record-breaking season, and if we get more wind we could still have more fires, so we are not out of the woods yet,” LeRoy Westerling, a climate and fire scientist at the University of California, Merced, told the Chronicle. “Until we get those season-ending events that really wet things down, it’s not under control, and it won’t be.”
So far this year, wildfires statewide have killed at least 31 people destroyed more than 9,000 homes, businesses and other structures. Five of the 10 largest fires ever recorded in state history happened this year.
Other western states have also seen devastating wildfires. Eleven people were killed in Oregon, two in Colorado and one in Washington State.
The Silverado Fire began about 6:45 a.m. PDT Monday in the Santiago Canyon.
The fire may have been caused by a Southern California Edison Company electric conductor, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The newspaper received a copy of a report the utility submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission. In the report, a Southern California Edison senior manager said a telecommunication line may have contacted an overhead Edison primary conductor and ignited the fire.
Two firefighters who were working on the blaze were severely burned and suffered second- and third-degree burns over half their bodies, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said. The two men, ages 26 and 31, had to have breathing tubes inserted, he said.
The Blue Ridge Fire began as two fires about 1 p.m. PDT Monday. It was unclear what caused the fires.