A 6,500-acre fire that triggered evacuations of more than 2,000 Southern California homes apparently was ignited by remnants of a controlled forest burn that escaped, a U.S. Forest Service official said Tuesday.
Despite gusty Santa Ana winds, no homes had been lost in the blaze in northeastern Orange County. Evacuation orders were lifted Tuesday afternoon, and Chief Rich Hawkins of the Cleveland National Forest apologized to those displaced from neighborhoods in the cities of Orange and Anaheim about 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
“I am very regretful of the situation I find myself in tonight,” Hawkins told reporters. “The fact that nobody’s home has burned down and no one’s been killed, that’s a godsend.”
The wildfire was 10 percent contained, but the dry winds were forecast to continue through Wednesday.
Hawkins said fire crews ignited a prescribed burn last Thursday in a 10-acre forest area near Sierra Peak, and at the time no Santa Ana winds were predicted for at least five days.
But roots and other material can continue to burn underground if not fully mopped up.
“Normally fire will burn for two weeks after you think they’re out. ... But that’s no excuse, we had several days to mop that up with our fire engines,” he said.
Hawkins noted that the apparent cause would not be considered final for two weeks because several people in a pickup truck had been seen in the area where the wildfire roared to life early Monday.
Some residents had managed to return to evacuated areas before the evacuation order was lifted, or had never left so they could protect their homes in case the fire approached.
“Anybody that has a (wood) shake roof stayed. Anybody that’s been through this before stayed,” said 56-year-old Charles Morse, a longtime resident of Maybury Park in Orange, whose home has the wooden shingles.
Another Maybury Park resident, Kathy Choi, 76, said she couldn’t leave home because her poor eyesight prevented her from driving. She said she spent the night listening to TV reports and slept in her recliner to be better prepared in case she needed to flee.
“I believe in the sixth sense and my sixth sense was pretty calm,” she said. “My neighbors all keep tabs on me.”