Orange County’s Silverado Fire similar to 2007 Santiago Fire

The two Southern California fires had comparable footprints after burning for two days, and there are other similarities

Silverado and Santiago Fires
Silverado and Santiago Fires

There are similarities between the Silverado Fire that has been burning since Monday in Orange County, California, and the Santiago Fire of 2007.

  • They started near the intersection of Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads.
  • They both started in late October, the 21st and 26th.
  • After spreading for two days, their footprints were similar.
  • They burned with a Santa Ana wind during drought conditions.
  • Firefighters were entrapped on both fires. Two suffered serious burns and are still hospitalized from the Silverado Fire. On the Santiago Fire twelve had to deploy fire shelters for protection from the flames, but there were no injuries.

While the Santiago Fire was burning there were nine other ongoing major fires which set up a competition for firefighting resources. The spread of this year’s Silverado Fire was essentially stopped after two days, but in 2007 there were not enough hand crews, engines, air tankers, and helicopters to keep it from crossing Santiago Canyon Road on day three when the wind shifted to come out of the west. After that, it got into steeper slopes with heavier vegetation in the Cleveland National Forest, and eventually burned twice as much as the Silverado Fire, 28,517 acres (as of Oct. 29, 2020) vs. 13,390 acres.

Santiago Fire, October, 2007
Santiago Fire, October, 2007. From the After Action Report.
Silverado Fire map, October 28, 2020.
Silverado Fire map, October 28, 2020.

The causes appear to be very different. An arsonist used an accelerant to start the Santiago Fire in two places. In spite of an Investigation Task force consisting of 160 persons from the Orange County Fire Authority, FBI, ATF, and the Sheriff’s Department, and a $250,000 reward, an arrest was never made.

Southern California Edison said it is investigating whether electrical equipment may have caused the Silverado fire. The company reported to the state Public Utilities Commission that a “lashing wire” attached to a third-party telecommunications line may have struck a primary conductor.

The 136-page After Action Report for the Santiago Fire is available on Orange County’s website.

Santiago fire AAR released

Santiago fire AARThe Orange County Fire Authority has released their after action review on the October, 2007 Santiago fire, southeast of Los Angeles. The document is 138 pages long and 7.3 Mb. The fire burned 28,517 acres and destroyed 42 structures, including 14 homes, 4 commercial buildings, and 24 out buildings.

On a quick review, I did not see any earth-shaking revelations. There were some challenges with communications (i.e. 800 Mh vs. VHF systems) but have you ever seen an AAR for a large incident that did not mention problems with communications?

Some of the recommendations:

  • “…aggressively pursue adoption of Very High, High, and Moderate Fire Severity Zones” on the CalFire maps.
  • Develop a Wildland-Urban Interface Program that includes enforcement provisions, and commit the necessary resources.
  • Accelerate the purchase of new helicopters, and acquire night vision capability.
  • Establish a full-time, year-round hand crew, a 2nd seasonal handcrew, and a seasonal fly crew.
  • Increase staffing on Type 3 wildland engines to include a 4th firefighter.