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As flames approach, Irvine mom collects her crying kids, passports and flees home


Lana Salameh, 45, had just dropped off her two youngest children to school and returned home in Irvine’s Eastwood community.

The sky was a dull orange, trees were falling outside and smoke was seeping in the house, but she had not been informed that school was canceled.

She returned to grab her 9-year-old daughter, Farah Abdelbari, whose tears were soaking her pink mask at Eastwood Elementary School. She then picked up her 11-year-old son, Omar.

“They were scared, it wasn’t easy,” Salameh said. “My kids were crying, but we had to leave.”

They grabbed their passports and some bananas before arriving at Quail Hill Community Center that was reaching capacity.

The Silverado fire swept down from the hills above Irvine, threatening homes in the city’s northside and prompting 40,000 to be evacuated. So far, firefighters had kept the flames away from homes and north of Portola Parkway, but erratic winds remained a major problem.

Inside the shelter, about 30 people sat at socially distanced desks and small dogs were tied to the tables. News reports of the fire were pulled up on many of the evacuees’ laptops.

Salameh’s children were glued to their laptops to do their school work.

Esther Lee, 55, along with dozens of others waited outside in the parking lot for a spot to open up.

When Lee looked outside her bedroom porch Monday morning, the palm trees swayed and a large plume of smoke overtook the nearby mountains.

Her home of 19 years along Portola Avenue in Irvine was being beaten by smoke and Santa Ana winds, so she started packing.

Around 9:30 a.m. she received a mandatory evacuation notice and quickly packed important documents into her two cars.

“We didn’t have much time, and I didn’t want to stay too long,” Lee said. “We’re just staying put for now because the winds can be so unpredictable.”

She and her husband, Jay, decided to stay in the park nearby until her family members in Lake Forest had a plan for the day. They had their dog Katara with them.

Lee had evacuated in the past, but the winds from today made her more concerned for her home’s safety.

Pat Grath, 78, was making breakfast when a stranger pounded on the front door of her Ridge Valley home to inform her of the evacuation notice. Grath has no family on the West Coast.

“I just panicked, I started crying,” McGrath said. “I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m stressed, and I don’t know what to do.”

Her voice was faint as she reclined back into her seat with a beige cardigan draped over her.

“I was hoping there would be food or water, but I only got a bottle of water from a woman here earlier,” she said. “There’s a fountain down the hall, but I forgot my cane and my legs don’t work too well. I think your body doesn’t work as well when you’re stressed.”

The winds were knocking out half full trash cans, pushing them around the streets of Orchard Hills, an Irvine neighborhood that sits in the path of Silverado fire.

Smaller trees were nearly being blown off their roots. The neighborhood is dotted with two-story stucco homes. Some are still in the middle of construction. Almost everyone had evacuated with the exception of one or two families who were still gathering their belongings before getting out.

Not far from Bella Garden Park, Raymond Siu, 44, stuffed his Lexus SUV with luggage and other personal items.

Breathing hard, he said he learned about the fire from police alerts on his phone and immediately began preparing to evacuate.

“I’m feeling rushed,” he said, running to his white Tesla before driving off.

His family, who was seated in the white Lexus SUV, followed behind him.

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