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Schools close near the Silverado fire in Orange County as air quality worsens

An Orange County Fire Authority firefighter uses a resident's garden hose.
An Orange County Fire Authority firefighter uses a resident’s garden hose to help keep Silverado fire hot spots away from homes in an Orchard Hills neighborhood of Irvine on Monday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District closed its elementary school campuses Monday afternoon in response to poor air quality resulting from the Silverado fire, which began early that morning.

The district extended its on-campus closures through Wednesday. Secondary students in special education will be instructed through the distance-learning model. District officials said this would not impact students in elementary schools as it is a non-student day. Officials said they anticipate reopening on Thursday, pending improvement in air quality.

The Laguna Beach Unified School District said it would reopen for in-person instruction on Wednesday, after closing its schools on Tuesday due to extreme weather conditions, poor air quality and “unpredictable power outages.” Deputy Supt. Leisa Winston said in an email Tuesday that the district would be monitoring for air quality and provide indoor spaces to all students if needed.

Orange County was under siege from two wind-driven brush fires that forced evacuations, critically injured two firefighters and left others on edge.

An advisory from the South Coast Air Quality Management District said that strong Santa Ana winds are pushing smoke plumes from the fire southwest into Irvine, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. The agency said sensors in the area categorize the air quality as “unhealthy for sensitive groups to very unhealthy [air quality index] categories.” The advisory remains in place through Wednesday.

District officials said all Corona del Mar zone schools initiated an early student dismissal of the Monday morning cohort and canceled in-person instruction for the afternoon. Less impacted schools in the Newport Harbor, Costa Mesa and Estancia zones completed their morning cohorts but canceled their afternoon sessions.

Elementary schools first reopened in the district on Sept. 29. The closure does not affect secondary schools, which have not yet reopened.

“I want to thank our teachers, staff, principals and parents who were impacted and for making quick adjustments in response to the smoke,” Supt. Russell Lee-Sung said in a statement issued to community members. “We also hope that the fire will quickly be controlled by the Orange County Fire Authority and that all residents in the evacuation area remain safe.”

Officials said that in-person instruction was canceled Tuesday but that teachers or principals kept in touch with students and families on distance-learning plans for the day.

Students at the six elementary schools in the Huntington Beach City School District will be on campus four days a week during the pandemic.

As of Tuesday evening, the Silverado fire has burned through 12,600 acres and is at 5% containment. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for at least 60,000 residents in Irvine, including all homes north of Irvine Boulevard between Bake Parkway and Jamboree Road, according to Irvine city officials on Monday.

Mandatory evacuation orders for all residents south of Portola Parkway and west of the 133 Toll Road were lifted Tuesday along with those for Irvine residents living east of the 133 to Portola High School and those north of Great Park Boulevard to Irvine Boulevard. All other evacuation orders remain in place.

The Orange County Fire Authority reported that 70,000 homes in Irvine, 8,000 homes in Lake Forest and 2,500 homes in Yorba Linda have been evacuated.

Evacuation orders also now include residents between Great Park Boulevard and Bake Parkway and north of Toledo Way until the city limits. They include residents in areas from Irvine Boulevard south of Trabuco Road and from Jeffrey Road East to Portola High School.

UC Irvine continued suspension of campus operations through Tuesday.

The fire began at around 6:45 a.m. Monday near Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads. About 500 firefighters have been deployed to help fight the blaze.

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning. In nearby Laguna Beach, Fire Chief Mike Garcia has issued a local red flag warning effective through Tuesday.

A second brush fire — the Blue Ridge fire — broke out Monday near the Green River Golf Club in Corona but went west into Chino Hills and toward Yorba Linda. The fire has burned through 15,200 acres and is 0% contained. About 2,500 homes in Yorba Linda have been evacuated. Fire officials said Tuesday evening that 10 homes have been damaged.

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