A fast-moving, wind-whipped wildfire forced about 60,000 residents of a Southern California suburb to evacuate on Monday, while huge swaths of the Golden State went without power in an effort to prevent more flames, officials said.
The Silverado Fire had charred at least 4,000 acres in and around the community of Irvine, about 50 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, by the early afternoon, the Orange County Fire Authority said.
About 500 firefighters were on the lines battling the out-of-control blaze, authorities said.
Close to 60,000 people, living in 20,000 homes, are in range of the fire and were ordered to evacuate. Firefighters are dealing with steady winds of between 20 mph and 30 mph, gusting up to 65 mph, authorities said.
The University of California, Irvine, shut down all campus activities shortly before 11 a.m. PT.
“It was completely terrible,” UCI graduate student Vanessa Montellano, 23, told NBC News, describing the scene outside her apartment on Monday morning. “I was like wow, the skies were orange, the sun was bright red, the tree was swaying. It was almost not real.”
Thomas Anthony, a 32-year-old Irvine resident, was jarred awake by the sound of high winds in the middle of the night before waking up to the heavy smell of smoke.
The sights, sounds and smells of a major fire evacuation was a jarring experience for Anthony, his wife, their 1 1/2-year son and pet puppy.
“Man, it seemed like armageddon to be honest,” Anthony told NBC News after safely taking refuge with in-laws 30 miles away in Downey. “It could have been the end of the world if that’s what was really happening.”
Unseasonably warm, dry temperatures and high winds throughout California have led to planned power outages to curb the threat of electrical wires sparking wildfires.
About 355,000 homes and business served by San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric were in the dark on Sunday and Monday, impacting about a million Californians, officials said.
Meanwhile closer to the Silverado Fire, nearly 20,000 homes and businesses were without power as a safety precaution by about noon on Monday, according to Southern California Edison.
This is a developing story, please refresh here for updates.
Steve Strouss, Ali Gostanian and Allison Park contributed.