California crews begin to tame two Orange County wildfires as winds ebb

Oct 28 (Reuters) - Weakening winds overnight enabled firefighters in Southern California to begin to corral two raging wildfires that left two front-line crew members hospitalized and were threatening tens of thousands of homes, authorities said on Wednesday.

Fire authorities reported significant progress in setting up containment lines around the two Orange County blazes, the latest eruptions in a year in which the state’s hills, valleys and forests have been scorched throughout its North-South span.

With crews of more than 1,300 fighting the two blazes, the Orange County Fire Authority said they had widened containment of the Silverado fire to 25% from 5% on Tuesday, after it charred through 13,354 acres (5,404 hectares).

“The most important thing is we’ve had zero homes lost,” OCFA Capt. Ben Gonzalez said in a video briefing, crediting fire crews for keeping the flames away from residences.

Two firefighters, who were critically injured with second- and third-degree burns when the fire erupted on Monday, were still hospitalized on Wednesday, an OCFA spokesman said.

More than 89,000 homes and businesses were still being threatened by the Silverado fire in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains near Irvine, and the Blue Ridge fire near Yorba Linda, which started shortly thereafter, an OCFA spokesman said.

More than 100,000 residents were ordered to leave their homes as the two fires south of Los Angeles reached their peak of danger on Tuesday, but some evacuation orders have since been lifted, the spokesman said.

The Blue Ridge fire, which destroyed one structure and damaged seven others, was 16% contained by Wednesday morning, up from no containment at all, after burning through 14,334 acres (5,801 hectares), the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said.

Winds have steadily slowed since the outbreak of the blazes, prompting the National Weather Service to downgrade its fire threat risk to moderate on Wednesday and minor for the rest of the week.

“With favorable weather, fire crews will find opportunities to establish more control lines,” CalFire said in a statement.

Across the state, nearly 5,000 crew members were still battling 22 wildfires on Wednesday, and had successfully contained 23 new ones, it said.

Wildfires this year have ravaged California, scorching more than 6,400 square miles (16,500 square km) - equivalent to the land mass of the state of Hawaii - since the start of the year, with 31 lives lost and thousands of homes destroyed. (Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)