Orange County school districts pivot as Bond fire rages in Silverado Canyon with 0% containment

The Bond fire started late Wednesday night when a structure fire spread into nearby vegetation, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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As the Bond fire burns through Silverado Canyon, nearby school districts are making plans as air quality worsens and evacuation orders are issued in parts of Orange County.

The Bond fire started late Wednesday night. Orange County Fire Authority officials reported just after 11 p.m. that a structure fire extended into nearby vegetation. As of noon Thursday, the fire exploded to an estimated 7,200 acres with zero containment. About 500 firefighters are reported to be on the ground.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory in response to the Bond fire and the Airport fire, which is burning in Corona in Riverside County.

Officials stated that both the Bond and Airport fires are producing heavy smoke. Unhealthy air quality index levels are being recorded throughout northern Orange County and parts of Long Beach while parts of central Orange County, affected by the Bond fire, are reaching very unhealthy air quality in places.

The advisory will be in place through Friday morning, though the agency said it would issue an update if things change.

A helicopter makes a water drop on the Santa Ana wind-driven Bond fire that is burning near Irvine Lake on Thursday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Newport-Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Annette Franco said that officials heard news of the developing fire early Thursday morning and made the decision to transition its Newport Beach campuses to distance learning to avoid student and staff exposure to smoke.

“We all woke up this morning with the news of the fire and quickly got together,” Franco said. “Newport Beach schools appeared to have the worst air quality.”

The advisory names Newport Beach as one of the cities reaching very unhealthy air quality levels due to the Bond fire.

As the Orange County Fire Authority continued to battle the blaze, Newport-Mesa officials decided to take further action and transitioned Costa Mesa schools to distance learning out of an abundance of caution. It’s unclear whether the early morning decision may have come after students had already arrived on campuses or while they were in transit, as primary and secondary schools have different start times.

Franco said efforts were being made to communicate to all schools and families.

“We’re not, at this point, in any immediate threat of the fire,” she clarified. “It’s just that the air quality is immensely bad in our area.”

Firefighters turn to shield themselves from embers as they battle the Bond fire along Silverado Canyon Road in Silverado.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Similar actions were taken by the district in October when the Silverado fire shut down schools. The fire burned through 12,466 acres and was extinguished in early November.

“Because of the nature of the school year, we were able to reasonably switch to distance learning at a moment’s notice,” Franco said.

With the exception of nearly 2,000 students who attend an online only Cloud Campus, about 19,186 students are currently enrolled in a hybrid version of in-person learning that brings students onto campuses under a modified schedule.

Franco said the district planned to provide an update to staff and families sometime Thursday afternoon about whether the transition to distance learning would continue into Friday.

Elementary schools remain open in the Laguna Beach Unified School District, the Huntington Beach City School District and the Ocean View School District. Outdoor activities, such as recess and physical education classes are being restricted in OVSD and LBUSD.

At Laguna Beach High School, athletics are canceled for the day.

Firefighters battle the Bond fire in Silverado.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Laguna Beach Unified Deputy Supt. Leisa Winston said in an e-mail Thursday that elementary schools are in distance learning on Fridays as part of the district’s hybrid model and will not be impacted.

Huntington Beach City School District spokesman John Ashby said the district is not switching to online-only education at this time and will be monitoring air quality and following guidance from the Orange County Department of Education.

Gina Clayton-Tarvin, president on the Ocean View School District board of trustees, said in a call that the district determines whether or not to close its campuses based on air quality reported out by the South Coast Air Quality District and that Ocean View campuses were not closed Thursday. Clayton-Tarvin said the district will be taking it day-by-day to determine how to proceed.

At this time, campuses will remain open Thursday and Friday for the second cohort of students. If conditions change, Clayton-Tarvin said there would be a decision made for the first cohort — which attends school on Monday and Tuesday — would be made over the weekend.

Officials at the Huntington Beach Union High School District and Fountain Valley School District did not respond to requests for comment.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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