As the flames of the Canyon 2 fire crept closer and closer to their Orange County home, Rebecca and Adrian Pop knew they had to flee.
In a matter of minutes Monday, they had rounded up their five children — ages 11 months to 11 years — and two huskies, packed them into a recreational vehicle, and headed to a relative’s home in Fullerton.
Less than 24 hours later — after the blaze had ballooned to 7,500 acres, destroyed several homes and prompted evacuation orders in Anaheim, Tustin and Orange — the couple were back, trying to find out what they had lost.
“I know the evacuation is still in place, but we just had to check,” said Rebecca, 35, as her husband steered their SUV past the orange cones authorities had placed to block Santiago Canyon Road — a key route leading to the hills where many tract homes had been threatened or scorched by the wind-fed flames.
“Like everyone,” she said, “we need to know what's going on, and we need to share our thanks.”
As residents continued to worry about their homes, fire crews said they were making “fantastic progress” Tuesday against a sprawling wildfire that had shrouded Disneyland in smoke and prompted air-quality warnings in parts of Los Angeles County just a day earlier.
The dry, fire-friendly Santa Ana winds had shifted to moist, ocean breezes, allowing fire crews to begin attacking the blaze directly, fire officials said.
Capt. Larry Kurtz, a spokesman for the Orange County Fire Authority, said the blaze was 25% contained as of Tuesday morning. Fire crews had managed to halt the blaze’s westward progression, and were focusing on stopping its eastern advance, officials said.
Evacuation orders remained in place Tuesday for Orange and Tustin. Anaheim fire officials said residents in affected areas would be allowed to return Tuesday evening. It was unclear when evacuation orders would be lifted in other areas, and officials said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
On Monday, Orange County fire officials evacuated more than 5,000 homes in three cities as the fast-moving fire grew. At least 12 homes were destroyed after the fire raced up a hillside, according to Sgt. Daron Wyatt, a spokesman for Anaheim’s fire and police departments. An additional 22 homes suffered fire damage, he said.
More than 1,100 firefighters were called to the scene, stretching state firefighting resources thin as officials also tried to battle a series of raging fires in Northern California that have claimed 15 lives and burned more than 100,000 acres.
The Canyon 2 fire also forced the closure of nine schools Tuesday. Six — Anaheim Hills Elementary, Canyon Rim Elementary, Chapman Hills Elementary, Linda Vista Elementary, Panorama Elementary and Running Springs Elementary — were all expected to remain closed Wednesday, school district officials said.
For residents attempting to return to their homes, Tuesday was about estimating the damage and thanking the firefighters who in many cases helped keep that damage minimal.
Once Rebecca and Adrian Pop were able to confirm their home was safe, they began to drive around in a golf cart loaded with two boxes of ham and cheese croissants. They wanted to give the food out to any firefighters they could find as they checked on their neighbors.
“We have a lot of neighbors who refused to leave, but we had to get the kids out. This air is absolutely not healthy,” said Adrian, a 47-year-old optometrist.
"We are like a big family here. We care for each other,” his wife added. “When one of us is hurt, we’re all hurt.”
After dropping some croissants off with an Urban Search & Rescue truck, the couple drove their golf cart down the road and came upon a crowd of shocked residents who were pointing at the sprawling ruins of a neighbor's home.
The nameplate showed it had been the “Deacon home,” comfortable, complete with stables, gazebo and a beloved tree swing.
“I have always wanted to go on that swing,” said Lisa Duquette, a nearby resident who works in the health insurance industry. “Everybody knows this house. It was an adorable house. And it's tragic because for a lot of us who live here, we hike here. We recognize all the spots in the area and it becomes a part of us.”
Firefighters said a wood pile stacked outside the home aided the fire’s spread to the structure.
“It was so green just a week ago — everything was green around us,” Adrian Pop said, a wistful note in his voice. “It's unbelievable what disappeared and what survived.”
Times staff writer Javier Panzar contributed to this report.
7:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information from fire officials and comments from families whose homes were at risk of being damaged in the fire.
2 p.m.: This article was updated with new mapping details.
11:08 a.m.: This article was updated with containment information and other new details.
This article was originally published at 8:15 a.m.