By Allison Jarrell, Special to the Independent
UPDATE: As of 6 p.m., all evacuations have been lifted. The fire is now 40 percent contained. Crews will continue to extinguish hot spots through the night.
By Sunday afternoon, the Aliso Fire burning between Soka university and Laguna Beach was 10 percent contained and reduced from over 250 acres to 150 acres, according to Laguna Beach Fire Chief Mike Garcia. And while the majority of residents evacuated from the Top of the World neighborhood were allowed back in their homes Sunday afternoon, city officials asked some residents with homes close to the canyon to remain away from the area.
As of 1:30 p.m., residents on Alta Laguna Boulevard, Ridge Drive, Rimcrest Circle, Crestwood Circle, Park Place, Tyrol Drive, the West side of Bonn Drive, Bern Drive, Cresta Way, Zell Drive, Dorn Court, Chillon Way, Chateau Way, Bernard Court, Temple Hills Drive, and Bern Court were allowed back into their homes.
Streets that remain under mandatory evacuation are Nestall Road, Alpine Way, Old Top of the World Drive, Treetop Lane, Ann’s Lane, Shady Lane, Sommet Du Monde, Shady Place, the east or canyon side of Bonn Drive, and the east or canyon side of Mountain View Drive from Bonn Drive to Top of the World Elementary School.
“Evacuations remain in effect for the areas indicated due to the potential of fire danger and because fire apparatus might be populating the neighborhoods preventing the ability to evacuate,” said Jordan Villwock, Laguna Beach Emergency Operations Coordinator. “Aerial fire crews are currently monitoring flare-ups and heat spots on the fire from the air and helicopters will continue making water drops throughout the peak heat times of the day. The evacuation orders for the remaining areas are still in effect to safeguard our citizens from any harm and will be lifted as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Villwock anticipated evacuations would last through early Sunday evening.
Laguna Beach Unified School District announced around 3 p.m. that classes will be cancelled at Top of the World Elementary School on Monday, June 4. All other campuses will be open. District officials said the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach will be open at 8 a.m. on Monday to provide childcare for those who need it.
The Aliso Fire grew from a 1-acre brush fire to more than 250 acres in a few hours on Saturday, fueled largely by erratic canyon winds. Over 400 firefighters, four helicopters and six air tankers responded to the blaze, with a unified command by OCFA, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Orange County Parks and Cal Fire. The fire was initially reported early Saturday afternoon below Top of the World and behind Soka University.
Authorities issued evacuations of 1,500 residents in the Top of the World and Old Top of the World neighborhoods on Saturday and evacuated all animals from the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter later in the evening. A temporary evacuation shelter was opened at the Susi Q Community Center, with information and staff available to assist evacuees.
In the city of Aliso Viejo, mandatory evacuations were issued Saturday night for 2,000 homes in the area of Wood Canyon and Pacific Park to Wood Canyon and Laurel Lane. Those evacuations were lifted at 9 p.m. on Saturday.
No structures were damaged, according to OCFA officials. OCFA reported one mild firefighter leg injury on Saturday.
Alicia Willis, a four-year resident of Top of the World, and her mother, Leigh, watched from Top of the World as firefighters worked extinguish heat spots on Sunday afternoon. Willis said she saw the fire start in the canyon early Saturday afternoon and took her daughter and their pets around 2 p.m. to stay with her mother in Aliso Viejo.
“I was freaking out,” Willis said. “We packed up and went to my parents’ house and watched it on the news. It was pretty terrifying to see.”
Willis took her rabbit and her dog with her but was forced to leave her chickens behind.
“The chickens kept running away from me and I couldn’t get them,” Willis said. “I left the pen and gate open so they could get out if they needed to. So that was hard, leaving them behind.”
Willis was glad to return and see that her feathered friends were fine, thanks to a neighbor who stayed behind and closed her gate for her Sunday morning.
“To see the fire so close to the school was really scary,” she said. “The firefighters really did a great job. We’re really thankful.”
Willis was in high school in Laguna when the fire of 1993 erupted and recalled “driving around and seeing all of the homes that were destroyed.”
“My best friend lost her house. It was heartbreaking,” she said. “It was scary to remember that and have this happen. [My friends] all have houses up here now, so we can kind of see what all of the parents were going through back then.”
Willis’ mother, Leigh, said she remembers that fire well.
“That’s why this scares you so much,” she said of the Aliso Fire. “This was so close, and luckily the winds were going the other way.”
The City of Laguna Beach posted an update to Twitter early Sunday evening, announcing that the fire has stopped growing.
According to LB Fire Chief Mike Garcia, the #AlisoFire is not growing. It is burning under the heavy brush, and is Still 10% contained. Acreage burning remains approx 150 acres.
— City of Laguna Beach (@lagunabeachgov) June 3, 2018
A fire information hotline can be reached at 714-628-7085. To register for emergency alerts, visit www.alertoc.com. Or sign up for Nixle by texting 92651 to 888-777.