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Bond fire rapidly jumps through Orange County canyons, forcing evacuations

A fire that erupted in Orange County’s canyon country quickly jumped into the nearby hillsides Thursday, whipped by Santa Ana winds and fueled by bone-dry brush that also drove three smaller fires in Riverside.

The Bond fire nearly quadrupled in size in just a few hours, exploding to about 7,200 acres by Thursday afternoon. About 25,000 residents live in a mandatory evacuation order in effect for Silverado Canyon, Modjeska Canyon, Williams Canyon, Black Star and Baker canyons and portions of Portola Hills and Foothill Ranch, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said.

Two firefighters were injured battling the blaze, which was 0% contained. Officials with the Orange County Fire Authority said the injured firefighters had been treated by paramedics and taken to a hospital.

Multiple structures may have been damaged by the blaze.

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“We are in the process of verifying the number involved and the extent of the damage,” the Orange County Fire Authority wrote on Twitter.

The blazes come as the National Weather Service issued red flag warnings for a “particularly dangerous” combination of strong winds and low humidity levels. Across Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and other areas in Southern California, warnings for fire weather and strong winds remain in effect through at least Saturday.

In Orange and southwestern San Bernardino counties, gusts were expected to reach up to 50 mph. Riverside and San Diego counties could see gusts up to 70 mph. The red flag warnings prompted Southern California Edison to initiate a public safety power shut-off late Wednesday.

The Bond fire erupted overnight in Orange County in dry brush and prompted evacuations in mountain communities amid high winds.

In Orange County, voluntary evacuation warnings were issued for areas spanning from Trabuco Canyon to north Tustin. A temporary Red Cross evacuation point was set up in Lot 2 of Santiago Canyon College, 8045 E. Chapman Ave., in Orange. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities said no congregate shelter was available and urged evacuees “to seek safety with family/friends or in a hotel.”

Judy Smith, a 48-year-old from Lake Forest, stood by her car outside the Red Cross area Thursday afternoon. She had anticipated spending the week isolating at home after developing a mild cold and showing pre-COVID symptoms. Instead, she spent hours in her car trying to find hotel accommodations with a separate room for her daughter, who was perched in an adjacent car.

“We’ll be OK. It’s an unfortunate timing,” Smith said. “I’m going to see what I can do to isolate from my daughter.”

Around 70 cars had come for assistance by 1 p.m., said Red Cross officials, who were prepping to find a new location as the evacuation zone was encroaching on their locale.

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The Bond fire, which began Wednesday night in Orange County, has exploded to more than 4,000 acres and is threatening several canyon communities.

Sepehr Roshan of Pomona was awoken early Thursday morning with a notice that his aunt’s home was in an evacuation zone. She has abdominal cancer, and evacuation proved difficult five weeks ago, during the Silverado fire. The air quality did not help her health, so the 53-year-old Roshan drove to Orange County to help his family find accommodations and prepare to leave if needed.

Air quality near the fire took a nosedive Thursday. The Environmental Protection Agency monitoring site Air Now showed Orange, Irvine, Tustin and other areas near the Bond fire hovering in the unhealthy air quality range and advised people to reduce time outdoors and avoid strenuous activities.

“She’s bed-resting right now, but it’s tough. She doesn’t really want to leave her house because it’s her comfort zone,” Roshan said of his aunt. “We made sure all the windows and doors are closed and the air purifier is on at all times.”

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A large plume rises from behind rugged terrain along Santiago Canyon Road, where the Bond fire continues to burn.
A large plume rises from behind rugged terrain along Santiago Canyon Road, where the Bond fire continues to burn with 0% containment.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Up the street, Donna Budman was monitoring the smoke outside her home of 28 years. The faint sound of sirens and loudspeakers from sheriff’s cars echoed as they patrolled the area.

Her neighborhood has been threatened by wildfire three times since she moved in — twice in the last several weeks.

Budman said she and her family aren’t evacuating. She wants to monitor the threat level, but they plan to hunker down in the meantime. Her main worry was making sure the Wi-Fi stayed on so her daughter could finish a final exam for a college course.

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“Maybe we have a false sense of security because of last month’s fire burning a lot of the vegetation already, but it’s a good reminder that we need to be ready, and we are,” she said.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Thanh Nguyen said crews were battling steep terrain, heavy brush and dangerous fire weather conditions.

“The big challenge we have here is not only the topography, the contour of the hillsides, but the wind,” Nguyen said. “In addition to that, the winds come with low relative humidity. [Humidity] is in the low teens, and that makes the fuels susceptible to burning.”

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The Fire Authority reported just after 11 p.m. Wednesday that a structure fire had extended into nearby vegetation, and that firefighters were on the scene, with fire helicopters and a helitanker assisting.

The Bond fire erupted overnight in Orange County.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

In Riverside County, three smaller fires were burning Thursday. Near Corona Municipal Airport, a brush fire swelled to 750 acres and was 10% contained as of Thursday afternoon. The Cerritos fire sparked Wednesday night, and grew to 200 acres, forcing residents to evacuate from the Nuevo community. The blaze was 25% contained Thursday evening.

Near the San Bernardino County border, a 10-acre mulch fire spread to a pallet yard and threatened multiple structures. Residents near the Santa Ana Riverbottom were told to evacuate.

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As of Thursday afternoon, 43,492 customers were without power, including nearly 1,600 customers in Orange County, 7,800 in Los Angeles County and nearly 22,000 in Riverside County.

Nearly 250,000 additional customers are under consideration for a shut-off as well, according to SCE spokesman Ron Gales, including an additional 14,000 in Orange County.

Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II, Luke Money and Alejandra Reyes-Velarde contributed to this report.


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