The two firefighters that suffered very serious injuries while battling the Silverado Fire are still in critical condition, on ventilators, and in induced comas. However, they have survived multiple surgeries and are improving, but they have a long and tough road ahead.
They are members of a 17-person Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) hand crew that was assigned to the fire east of Irvine, California on October 26, 2020 when the fire burned over their location. In addition to the two firefighters still hospitalized, another suffered radiant heat injuries and other firefighters had superficial heat injuries.
The OCFA has released an Informational Summary Report, or Green Sheet, about the incident.
The burnover occurred at about noon during a Red Flag Warning for strong offshore winds, low humidity, and dry fuels. The weather conditions at the time were 60 degrees, 8 percent relative humidity, and winds out of the north-northeast at 16 mph with gusts to 42 mph. The fire was burning in grass and brush, with live fuel moistures for the chamise and sage at or below the critical levels.
Very briefly, the firefighters were along an indirect mid-slope dozer line with fire below and unburned vegetation on both sides. They were firing out below the line, igniting with drip torches until the wind kept blowing out the flames on the wicks, so they switched to using fusees. Several spot fires occurred on the slope above the dozer line which were suppressed by the crew. Another spot fire which grew rapidly about 80 feet above the line was attacked by eight firefighters with hand tools and three engine crew members with a fire hose.
Shortly thereafter, a second rapidly spreading spot fire started below and upwind of the eleven firefighters. They escaped from the area as best they could back down to the dozer line.
Five hand crew members were impacted by radiant and convective heat, reporting singed hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes while stumbling out of the way of the second spot fire’s path. The remaining three hand crew members, according to the report, “were impacted significantly”.
The two most seriously injured personnel were transported with paramedics in an engine and a hand crew vehicle to Orange County Global Medical Center, arriving at 12:32 p.m. and 12:57 p.m.
There was no mention in the report of fire shelters, either being carried or deployed by the firefighters. We have unconfirmed information that they had fire shelters but there wasn’t enough time to deploy them.
The Silverado Fire burned 12,466 acres and destroyed 5 structures.
In 2007 in Orange County 12 firefighters on the Santiago Fire were entrapped and deployed fire shelters, but there were no serious injuries.