On Monday, the city of Irvine issued an evacuation order for 60,000 residents due to the Silverado Fire growing rapidly around the city.
— City of Irvine (@City_of_Irvine) October 26, 2020
The Silverado Fire began early on Monday, erupting as a vegetation fire at 6:47 A.M. just outside the city in Silverado Canyon. However, dry conditions, winds reaching as high as 80 MPH, and low humidity quickly spread the fire. Within hours the fire had already spread to 2,000 acres.
“The fire started in Silverado Canyon, and helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are on the way,” said Irvine Mayor Christina Shea in a press release. “The wind is making it move very quickly.”
By the early afternoon the fire had doubled to 4,000 acres threatening Irvine, as well as nearby cities such as Santa Ana, with more mass evacuations. 20,000 other residents have also had their power shut down as a precaution against further spread.
With just under a quarter of Irvine’s 280,000 population now in evacuation centers, homes already starting to burn, the fire crossing highways seen as artificial barriers, and famed institutions like the University of California, Irvine now shut down due to the blaze, Irvine is bracing for the worst disaster they have ever faced.
“You know, Irvine has survived a war, earthquakes, other wildfires, a lot,” Orange County tour guide and historian Kevin Keller explained. “But a wildfire growing this fast and damaging things so fast? People didn’t think it would happen here.”
“You know, this is Orange County. A bunch of wealthy suburbanites. This isn’t supposed to happen here. Up north or maybe closer to LA, yeah. But not here.”
“From my house the sky is orange and the air is smoky. It looks like those images of Sa Francisco from a few months ago when they had bad fires up there. It’s becoming otherworldly and I can only imagine what it will look like tonight. No one here, including myself, expected someone to see this sort of thing here.”
Flames have jumped the 241. #SilveradoFire
— OCFA PIO (@OCFA_PIO) October 26, 2020
The election threat
Some experts note that the Silverado Fire can now severely affect elections in the area as well.
“A lot of people are sending in ballots by mail or drop box,” explained Orange County election survey manager Lisa Reid. “We had a survey completed only last week where we found that over half of Orange County voters said they are voting by mail.
“But this fire, and all of these evacuations, are going to mess things up. There are a lot of polling places in the evacuation area, and we can be looking at maybe around 10,000 or more of those evacuated not having voted yet. That’s a lot. It’s not going to count much for the presidential election, but for House races and state races, as well as local races and propositions and local bond measures, we’re looking at a lot of people now being unable to vote there a little over a week before election day.”
“And there are a lot of close races here in Orange County too. If a lot of these displaced voters are Democrat, then the fire likely handed the GOP a win. And vice versa. Where the fire currently is at, they tend to vote Republican. So if many of those people there, who tend to be older and more likely to vote in person, either we hope the evacuation is over by then, California gives everyone evacuated who has not voted new ballots, or the County sets up special polling places. If none of those things happen, we may see Democrats win races here by virtue of wildfire victims not being able to vote.”
“I don’t care who you are, that’s a scary scenario for democracy as a whole.”
According to the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), the Silverado Fire is at 0% containment as of Monday afternoon, with the priority still being to evacuate residents.
“Our priority right now is getting people evacuated and out of the path of the fire,” explained OCFA Fire Chief Brian Fennessy on Monday.
Further information on the Silverado Fire’s spread and further evacuations are expected throughout the week.