On the morning of Monday, Oct. 26, the Silverado Fire began in the Santiago and Silverado Canyon Road region near the city of Irvine, as reported by LAist. As of Oct. 27, the second day since the start of the fire, over 12,000 acres had been impacted, while over 75,000 people in the area had been ordered to evacuate.
As someone living in Tustin, specifically in an area that is only a few minutes from the hugely-impacted Irvine Orchard Hills area, I experienced some of the panic and chaos of the fire’s effects in the last two days (as of Oct. 27) that I wanted to share as a first-hand account.
On the morning of Oct. 26, I was in my online class, just starting my first block. Around 20 minutes in, one of my classmates sent a message through the Zoom chat suddenly saying that he needed to evacuate from their house because his family had just gotten an evacuation order.
To be honest, I had thought that he was joking at first. I hadn’t seen the news or gotten any warning from my own phone about the fire, and so I didn’t know about it at all at that point.
But, he unmuted his microphone and explained the situation to the class, saying that he really needed to leave and that this was a real situation happening right then, right now.
I was actually feeling a little stomach sickness (not virus-related) that morning, so I couldn’t look up what was happening at the time, but after class, I remember that my mother came into my room and told me about the situation — a fire was going on not too far from our house. My father was looking at the news downstairs. On his computer screen, I could see huge clouds of smoke and bits of fire from the live coverage.
I still attended my online classes at the time as best as I could, but during asynchronous class time, my mother told me to pack. She was already packing suitcases with necessary items such as extra clothes, hygiene items, valuables, etc.
I packed up my own backpack with my school materials, my prized comic books and the important possessions that I could see at the moment in my slightly panicked state.
Although I know now that realistically, the possibility of the fire spreading to my neighborhood was very little, the thought that I could potentially lose my house was so frightening for me at the time. While I was packing, I’d looked around my room and imagined losing everything in it, and it was hard for me to mentally grasp the reality of the situation.
I was communicating with some of my friends and classmates while the evacuations were happening — I was getting texts like, “we’re evacuating” at around 9:50 a.m. and “we’re going South towards Laguna Niguel” at around 10:20 a.m. from one of my classmates, and another (the same one who had had to leave my first block class) texting: “had to pack up my whole house in 45 mins” at around 10:30 a.m. in a group chat.
Both of these classmates of mine lived not too far from my house, so I personally was waiting for an evacuation order. A map had been available, and the line where the evacuations stopped was very close to where I lived. As a result, there was a huge uncertainty for me and for my family. It was like we were waiting for an order, but weren’t completely sure we were going to get one, so we just had to be on standby. And so, even though the evacuation possibility was there, I still had to be in class, which I attended with a half-in, half-out state of mind. I think that this uncertainty was one of the things that made the situation so much worse for me.
After lunch, in the early afternoon, the smell of burning and smoke reached my house. As soon as I came out of my room, I could clearly smell something burning in the hallway and downstairs (reminding me slightly of birthday cake). The sky was a yellowish hue and smoke was visible from a distance.
As a result of these evident effects and the overall situation around us, my family and I debated whether to evacuate or not after school had ended for me. My father had gone outside once during the day, and he told us that the air quality was terrible — that it had been difficult to breathe to some extent.
However, our house specifically was not under an evacuation order at this point, and the area closest to us under an evacuation order was only under a voluntary evacuation. There was also the question of what to do with our pet in the decision.
My aunt invited us to stay at her house until the situation was over, but in the end, we decided to stay. It was a little late to move anyways, and we determined that we would be okay staying for the night, and that if the air quality worsened the next day we would move then. We slept with all the fans and humidifiers on that night for better air quality inside the house.
Fortunately, the situation got much better the next day. The air outside went from “unhealthy” to “unhealthy for sensitive groups” on AirNow in the afternoon, and the smell of burning wasn’t as prominent. A lot of the areas around us lifted their evacuation orders, and most of my friends came home later in the day.
Although we were still watching live coverage and the news for updates, the worst of it had passed by at that point. I think that my family was very lucky, because the winds that had made the fire so dangerous and uncontrollable had blown the smoke away from us.
Yet, being in this kind of circumstance for the first time was still a very anxiety-inducing and frightening experience. The fact that the fire didn’t cause too many casualties overall is still something I’m very grateful for.