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Cause of Southern California fire that forced thousands to evacuate may be 'lashing wire'

The fast-moving Silverado Fire has burned more than 11,000 acres and forced tens of thousands to flee the Irvine area.
Image: Silverado Fire In Orange Country, California Forces Evacuations
Onlookers watch as the Silverado Fire burns in a canyon in Orange County on Octob. 26, 2020 in Lake Forest, Calif.Mario Tama / Getty Images

An investigation is underway into a lashing wire that may have caused the Silverado Fire, a blaze that has forced tens of thousands of California residents to evacuate as it grows.

Southern California Edison is working with the Orange County Fire Authority to find the source of the more than 12,000-acre wildfire, a spokesperson told NBC News in a statement on Tuesday. Two firefighters were critically injured in the fight to contain the inferno in and around the community of Irvine.

Over 75,000 people were under evacuation orders due to the Silverado Fire as of Tuesday morning, the Orange County Fire authority announced.

Southern California Edison sent a letter late Monday to the California Public Utilities Commission acknowledging its electrical facilities are in the area where the Silverado fire broke out. But it said there was “no indication of any circuit activity prior to the report time of the fire” or downed conductors.

"However, it appears that a lashing wire that was attached to an underbuilt telecommunication line ... may have resulted in the ignition of the fire,” the letter said.

The Silverado Fire was only 5 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon.

Firefighter Tylor Gilbert puts out hotspots while battling the Silverado Fire on Oct. 26, 2020, in Irvine, Calif.Jae C. Hong / AP

Powerful winds in and around the area, southeast of Los Angeles, have not only helped the flames grow exponentially but also prevented aircrafts from dropping retardant and water on the fire, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said Monday.

Five firefighters have been injured in the battle against the Orange County blazes, Fennessy told reporters on Tuesday. Three sustained minor injuries and were treated and released.

But two other firefighters, ages 26 and 31, remain in critical condition after being intubated on Monday. Fennessy said he personally hired both firefighters within the past year and has met with their parents since their injury.

"It's tough for any firefighter, certainly any fire chief, to feel this helpless when you've got part of our fire family fighting for their lives," Fennessy said. "I'm confident that they're going to do all they can to fight through this. This is just who they are."

Officials said Monday that the men suffered second- and third-degree burns across 65 percent and 50 percent of their bodies.

Gusts in Orange County were recorded at 88 mph, California Gov. Gavon Newsom said Tuesday, but authorities are hopeful that waning winds will help bring in the needed air support as firefighters battle on the ground.

“Broadly, we will experience a reduction in the winds between now and Thursday, but the most extreme wind events we believe will present themselves later today in the evening,” Newsom said. “And most, hopefully, are behind us.”

The governor said that Southern California will be under a red flag warning until at least 11 p.m. Tuesday night as the wind and dry weather conditions continue to put the state at risk. There have been 42 initial fire starts within the last 24 hours, Newsom said.

“Meaning 42 wildfires had ignited in the last 24 hours,” Newsom said Tuesday. “It’s an extraordinary testament to (state firefighters) that you don’t know about most of those — they’ve suppressed the vast majority of those.”

Image: Silverado Fire In Orange Country, California Forces Evacuations
Firefighters work as the Silverado Fire burns toward a home in Orange County on Oct. 26, 2020 in Irvine, Calif.Mario Tama / Getty Images

Orange County is also battling the Blue Ridge Fire, another blaze that started Monday and has grown to approximately 15,200 acres with 0 percent containment with 10 homes damaged. The wildfire has affected 2,500 houses and 10,000 people in Yorba Linda under evacuation orders, the Orange County Fire Authority announced on Tuesday.

Yorba Linda is a suburb located about 37 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles and home to the The Richard Nixon Library & Museum. The former president was born and buried in Yorba Linda.

Orange County officials are transitioning management of both fires to the state officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. More than 1,800 firefighters and 14 helicopters are being utilized across the county to fight both the Blue Ridge and Silverado Fires, Fennessy said Tuesday, as additional resources have been given to the county.

Assuming the conditions continue to settle in the Irvine area, authorities expect to repopulate the "majority" of residents who have been evacuated since Monday.