A swarm of firefighters and a water-dropping helicopter beat back a hillside brush fire in Laguna Beach that broke out around 11:30 a.m. today Sunday, Sept. 16, and briefly threatened St. Catherine’s school and the Laguna Terrace Mobile Home Park.
One firefighter was injured, but no structures burned, authorities said.
Firefighters that had already shifted their efforts further up the hillside to protect upwind homes on Nyes Place were able to douse a late afternoon flare-up within 10 minutes with water and foam, said Orange County Fire Authority spokeswoman Lynette Round. “It’s pretty phenomenal what they’re doing up there,” Round said from a command post on Coast Highway at Ruby’s Diner, between the school and mobile home park, which was temporarily taped off and closed to customers.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. A downed utility line was visible on the charred hillside just north of Laguna Terrace Park and one utility pole was still visibly smoking. Some residents in the park reported their homes were without power.
Firefighters will remain in the area throughout the night, Round said.
Because of a forecast for increasing wind in the afternoon and the potential of wind-driven flare-ups, homes on Nyes Places remain vulnerable, according to Round. Even as firefighters continued to douse the charred hillside and used handtools to turn over burned areas at the fire’s western and southern perimeter on the foothills behind the school and the north end of the mobile home park, firefighters regrouped to concentrate their resources higher up the hillsides that line Nyes Place where about 20 homes are nearest the fire’s edge. “That’s what they are worried about,” said Round.
About 5,000 residents within a one-quarter mile area around Laguna Terrace Park were called through a reverse 911 system and notified of a voluntary evacuation, police Sgt. Robert Rahaeuser said from the scene. The evacuation was rescinded by 4 p.m., and residents should be able to return home by 8 p.m. when congestion on Coast Highway abates, police said in a statement.
The injured firefighter was working on the steep hillsides when he reported not feeling well and was evacuated by paramedics, who hiked through the charred area to reach him with a stretcher. He is in stable condition at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Round said.
Mutual aid from surrounding areas put about 150 firefighters on the steep hillsides, who encircled the brush covered open space mostly hemmed in by development. Multiple fire trucks lined up on Nyes Place, connected to hydrants, ready to protect the homes, said Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger, who toured the scene with Laguna Fire Chief Kris Head and City Manager John Pietig.
One lane of Coast Highway was closed near St. Catherine’s school, contributing to a major traffic jam on southbound lanes.