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Weather is on firefighters' side - for now
Cool, moist air is aiding the battle against the last of the Southern California wildfires, but Santa Ana winds are expected to return by this weekend. More

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Firefighter Josh Balboa monitors the Harris fire in southern San Diego County.

Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Returning fire victims cautioned against ash, debris

Residents returning to their homes following the Santiago Fire are urged to use caution when cleaning up ash and debris.

The debris may include sharp edges, nails or other objects that can cause injuries. When going through fire debris, wear sturdy shoes, long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Leather work gloves and eye protection are also recommended.

Fire ash may be irritating to the eyes and skin. If the ash is breathed, it can be irritating to the nose and throat and may cause coughing.

Exposure to ash might trigger asthmatic attacks in people who have asthma. In order to avoid possible health problems the following precautions are recommended:

If you do get ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible.

Avoid getting ash into the air as much as possible. Do not use leaf blowers or  do anything else that will put ash into the air.

Wear eye protection, such as goggles.

A dust mask can significantly reduce (but not completely eliminate) the amount of particles inhaled. A mask rated N-95 or P-100 will be more effective than simpler dust or surgical masks in blocking particles from ash.

Persons with heart or lung disease should consult their physician before using a mask during post-fire cleanup.

Gentle sweeping of indoor and outdoor hard surfaces followed by mopping is the best procedure in most cases.

If you have a vegetable garden or fruit trees, wash the fruit or vegetables thoroughly before eating them.

For additional information on the safe cleanup of fire ash please visit the Orange County Health Care Agency's website at

Santiago Canyon evacuation orders to remain

Mandatory evacuations remain in place for the canyon areas off Santiago Canyon Road between Silverado Canyon Road and Live Oak Canyon Road, including the Santiago Estates and Jackson Ranch Road. Areas along Live Oak Canyon Road through the Trabuco Canyon area, including O'Neill Regional Park to Trabuco Creek Road, are also included in this mandatory evacuation.

The Santiago Incident Unified Command has established an assessment team to determine when residents of the Santiago Fire area may return to their homes.

This assessment begins today and will continue through at least the peak burning period and into the evening. The decision to allow residents to return to their homes will be contingent upon the anticipated fire threat and weather predictions for the affected areas.

Modjeska, Live Oak, Trabuco, and Silverado Canyons may be reopened at different times based upon conditions within each respective canyon. Only residents will be allowed to return to the evacuated areas; road blocks by local law enforcement will stay in place.

The returning residents will be asked to stay on their properties and not enter other affected areas including Cleveland National Forest land, which is still closed.

— Jeffrey L. Rabin

Cautious optimism in Orange County

Capt. Phil Rawlings at Cal-Fire said that firefighters at the Santiago blaze in Orange County had a good night and that containment was at about 50%, though there was no prediction for full containment. So far, 27,900 acres have burned.

At this point, there is no indication that the fire will spread to Riverside County, he said. "We're making very good headway and we're cautiously optimistic."

-- Michael Muskal

'Outstanding' weather aids firefighters

Orange County:

Firefighters made steady progress today battling the Santiago fire, but the 27,521-acre blaze is still threatening homes, and Orange County's rustic canyon communities remain under mandatory evacuation.

"The weather today has been outstanding," said Dennis Cross, a spokesman for the Orange County Fire Authority. "High humidity and very little wind is allowing aircraft to really target and hit a lot of hot spots. Structure protection is in place, and we're getting a lot of line constructed."

Nearly 2,000 firefighters are battling the fire, and they were supported in the air by four planes and 16 helicopters.

Assessment teams visiting remote burned areas discovered two more destroyed homes, bringing the fire's toll to at least 16.

A $285,000 reward is being offered to anyone offering information that leads to a conviction.

-- Seema Mehta

Waiting it out at 'Camp Silverado'


Orange County:

Evacuated from their rustic Orange County canyons for nearly a week, scores of residents are gathering in the parking lot of a nearby Albertsons market that they have dubbed "Camp Silverado."

Children are handing out homemade Halloween cupcakes; volunteers are tending pets, including roosters and iguanas, in a makeshift animal shelter; and fire authorities are providing regular updates about the blaze's direction as the evacuees wait to find out whether their homes are among the 14 destroyed.

"I'm feeling optimistic, but I'm dead tired and I'm pretty stressed out," said Sherry Meddick, a Silverado Canyon resident, as she tended the pets. "Keeping the animals keeps my mind off the situation, and people need the help.... It's pretty hard to take your iguana, 15 rabbits, 10 chickens and pot-bellied pig to Motel 6. They might not leave the lights on."

-- David Haldane

Photo: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Santiago fire creeps toward Mine Tract

Orange County:

The Santiago blaze is clambering toward Mine Tract, a small community of about 40 homes in Silverado Canyon. All residents have been evacuated, and hand crews are cutting a fire break. Firefighters are positioning themselves to defend the homes while water-dropping helicopters are trying to douse the flames, which are half a mile away.

"Right now, it's a very slow back-burning fire creeping down the ridge tops," said Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Pat Antrim, who has lived in Silverado for 46 years.

These homes are the only ones immediately threatened in Silverado, which has been evacuated for days and has so far avoided major damages.

Read on »

Crews defend Silverado Canyon homes from ground, air

Hand crews are cutting fire breaks to save hundreds of homes in rural Orange County as 13 water-dropping helicopters and four air tankers are battling the Santiago blaze from the sky.

"The main area of focus today is Silverado Canyon, where the fire is still threatening homes," said Fire Authority Battalion Chief Kris Concepcion. Firefighters are engaged in "structure protection, trying to establish a line between the fire and the homes."

After days of erratic winds and bone-dry humidity levels, the weather is finally cooperating with firefighters, he said. Temperatures are decreasing, humidity is increasing and moist ocean breezes are blowing inland.

-- Seema Mehta

Hundreds of Silverado Canyon homes threatened

The Santiago fire in Orange County threatened hundreds of homes in Silverado Canyon and is approaching the Riverside County line. Fire officials hope that milder weather conditions today will help their efforts. A few raindrops were even falling at the Irvine command post this morning.

The arson blaze, which has destroyed at least 14 homes, is 35% contained.

Overnight, firefighters protected homes in the narrow seven-mile canyon and used bulldozers to build a five-mile fire break, aiming to stop the fire front marching toward the Riverside County line. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are fighting the blaze.

An update is scheduled for later this morning.

-- Seema Mehta

Silverado Canyon fire history

Silverado Canyon:

Though Silverado Canyon, with its steep walls, narrow roads, mature trees and chaparral is a potential tinderbox, it has managed to escape major damage from wildfires in modern times. Silverado Canyon was untouched even by the 1967 Paseo Grande fire, which blackened nearly 49,000 acres and burned 51 homes, mostly in the canyons and foothills of east Orange County. The blaze was marching toward the canyon, but it changed directions at the last moment and burned Black Star Canyon.

-- William Lobdell

Canyon residents get brief visits home

Residents of Silverado, Modjeska and Williams canyons are being escprted to their homes by authorities for a 10-minute roundup of belongings to take back with them to "Camp Silverado."

-- Jennifer Delson