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A year after the Silverado Fire, memories are fresh and vigilance remains vital


In firefighter lingo it’s called “extreme fire behavior,” and just a year ago Orange County firefighters witnessed and battled it for 12 excruciating, exhausting days.

By the time it was declared 100 percent contained on Nov. 7, 2020, the Silverado Fire had torched 13,390 acres and caused the evacuation of 90,000 residents.

Captain Greg Barta remembers seeing the fire from the command post of the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) where he was coordinating communications.

“That fire was moving at hyperspeed, at such a pace we couldn’t stop it,” he recalls.

It is a situation that may become more common than rare in the firefighting community and it reinforces the importance for the community of staying informed and prepared.

To fill this vital need, groups such as Ready OC, Orange County’s emergency preparedness resource, keep the community informed and ready. Through the website, residents can learn how to prepare emergency kits and go bags for any kind of disaster, including floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. ReadyOC also contains links to sites like Alert OC where residents can sign up to learn about emergencies in their local communities.

Raging inferno

On the days in late October and early November in 2020, Barta witnessed the classic features of extreme fire behavior. There were massive crowns and legs of flame shooting skyward. There were fire whirls, or cyclones of flame, dust, and ash, as the fire created its own internal and terrifying weather systems and phenomena.

It was a nightmare-scape, like something from the mind of Dante or the brush of Sandro Botticelli.

Except it was very real.

Barta called it the “perfect storm” of drought-starved vegetation and remorseless Santa Ana winds.

“The winds were extraordinary even by Santa Ana standards,” OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy told NBC at the time. “Fire-spread is exceeding more than anything I’ve seen in my 44 years.”

It was a year during which nearly 75 fires of more than 1,000 acres were reported statewide and nationally more than 9,300 fires of all sizes burned between 4.1 and 4.4 million acres as reported to Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.

It might have seemed at the time that Santiago was a capstone to a calendar year of fire like no other.

Having witnessed and endured the ferocity of Silverado, Barta could never have imagined that just one month later he would go through it all again when the Bond Fire tore through Santiago Canyon. That nine-day blaze took another 6,600 acres and was stopped, ironically, in part by the fire scar from Silverado.

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