Undercover Laguna Beach police officers issued five citations to people found smoking Saturday, June 21, in the drought-parched open space known as the Carolyn Wood Knoll, near Alta Laguna Park.
Since law enforcement officials believe smokers are lighting up during darkness, officers also cautioned numerous others in the Aliso and Wood Canyon Wilderness Park about remaining in the park after dusk, a violation of a county ordinance, Fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse said in a statement.
Police and fire personnel plan additional undercover operations with county park rangers, including patrolling Aliso and Wood Canyons Park after sunset when the park is closed, he said, outlining other measures underway to curb smoking and open fires.
Fire scarred Top of the World resident Jerry King has collected handfuls of discarded cigarette butts he spots on the trails to press his case for stepped up enforcement with the city manager and fire chief.
This week, he called on Laguna Coast Wilderness Park Ranger Barbara Norton to close the open space during red flag conditions of high fire danger.
“Don’t underestimate my resolve in seeing that every possible step is being taken to stop a careless smoker from repeating the disaster of 1993. I don’t want another devastating wildfire to make my point,” King said.
Park entrances are posted with signs forbidding smoking and restricting access after nightfall. And fines for smoking in open spaces have increased to $1,000 from $100.
In addition, Laguna is deploying its Community Emergency Response Team members in open areas on Red Flag days to educate the public of park rules and to serve as a visual deterrent to those who may think of smoking or using open fires, LaTendresse said.
Fire watch cameras will soon transmit a video feed to the police-fire dispatch center, who will monitor the area and dispatch police and fire units as needed. And, Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopters will patrol the areas at night using infrared cameras to detect individuals in the park after hours who may light fires or smoke, LaTendresse said.