Laguna Beach brush fire 60% contained, homes saved
A brush fire that scorched more than 150 acres in the hills above the exclusive Emerald Bay community in Laguna Beach was 60% contained Friday, after threatening but not damaging any of the multimillion-dollar homes in the area.
“Not a single home damaged or destroyed!!!” the Orange County Fire Authority announced Friday morning on Facebook. “Firefighters launched an aggressive attack from the air and the ground. The all out assault by your #OCFA firefighters, with tremendous assistance from our regional partner fire agencies saved over a billion dollars worth of property that was imminently threatened.
“Thank you to all of the residents who provided defensible space around your homes aiding us in our efforts!
“Expect to see us in the area patrolling the fire perimeter and mopping up hot spots in the coming days.”
The fire was reported at 4:10 a.m. Thursday and spread quickly throughout the hillside area behind the upscale gated community, prompting evacuation orders and forcing schools to close.
Evacuation centers were established at the Los Olivos Community Center, 101 Alfonso, Irvine, and Laguna Beach Community Center, 380 Third St.
By 3 p.m. Thursday, evacuation orders for the communities of north Laguna Beach, Emerald Bay North and South and Irvine Cove were lifted. But county and state parks in the fire-affected areas remained closed.
By Friday evening, the estimate of burned acreage had grown to 154, but no injuries or damage had been reported.
At the height of the blaze there were 375 firefighters, but by 3 p.m. Thursday that number was down to about 200, OCFA Capt. Steve Concialdi said. Five helicopters had a “significant impact” on the fire.
“They made significant drops to slow the fire down, and then the wind died down this morning, which helped tremendously,” Concialdi said.
The flames erupted in the midst of Santa Ana winds that prompted a wind advisory in the area. The flames were driven primarily by the winds and mountain terrain. The hillsides are filled with thick, dry brush, since the area has not had a significant fire since 1993.
OCFA Capt. Brian Fennessy credited residents for protecting their homes by clearing brush from their properties to create a defensible space.
“Their work in creating defensible space, allowing us … to have a better opportunity to protect your homes was evident,” he said. “While the fire did spread rapidly, when it got into those areas where there was good defensible space, that fire laid down as it should, and again we had no structure damage and no structure loss,” the chief said.
Along with the OCFA, personnel from the Laguna Beach Fire Department also responded, along with crews in water-dropping helicopters in a mutual-aid response from the Los Angeles County Fire Department and Cal Fire.
Also, law enforcement personnel, including those from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol were deployed to secure the area, Fennessy said.
“We’ve got almost an engine in front of every home — that’s how robust the response was,” Fennessy said. “It was really the north end of Emerald Bay … an unincorporated area of Orange County. So, the fire literally was pushed north along the edges of those homes on the northern edge, and so they were not directly impacted.”
The massive hillside blaze forced the cancellation of classes at all schools in the Laguna Beach Unified School District — El Morro Elementary School, Top of the World Elementary, Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.