Firefighters working to knock down brush fire in Laguna Beach

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Smoke was visible from Main Beach looking toward Top of the World during a vegetation fire in Aliso Canyon on Wednesday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Heidi Miller

Firefighters responded to a fast-moving vegetation fire that started in Aliso Canyon and burned into a Laguna Niguel neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon.

As of 7:30 p.m., the blaze had grown to at least 200 acres after breaking out near the South Orange County Wastewater Authority treatment plant, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said. Over 20 homes have been damaged but damage assessment teams will get an exact count, he said.

“The winds we experienced today are normal winds. The big difference is the vegetation in our canyons, state, and throughout the West is so dry that it’s not taking much for it to burn,” Fennessy said.

The initial 911 call reported the fire in a patch of brush about 50 feet in diameter. It had grown to an acre by the time firefighters arrived at the scene, Fennessy said. The blaze then quickly raced up a hillside into steep terrain covered in thick, dry vegetation.

Laguna Beach fire chief Mike Garcia recorded a statement on Twitter to assure the community that Laguna Beach is safe Wednesday night.

“We don’t expect any changes but we want all of our residents to remain vigilant and be prepared, be aware. If we have a weather change, if there’s any change in the fire, we will put out information and notifications. We want you to be able to react quickly,” Garcia said.

Aliso Canyon and The Ranch at Laguna Beach were evacuated, according to an alert issued to Laguna Beach residents around 3:26 p.m. Homes were not immediately in danger and the fire was moving away from neighborhoods.

“Just as a precaution, police and firefighters evacuated the property,” Kurt Bjorkman, general manager of The Ranch at Laguna Beach said through a spokesperson.

The Laguna Beach Police Department issued evacuation warnings for residents in the Balboa Nyes (Portafina) Neighborhood around 4:30 p.m. These residents were encouraged to prepare family members and pets to evacuate in case of an evacuation order. The warning was lifted by 8:25 p.m., according to a city press release.

Mayor Sue Kempf commended the excellent response from Laguna Beach fire, police, and public works departments as well as the Fire Authority on Wednesday. From Aswut Trail near Moulton Meadows Park, she observed firefighting helicopters taking on water from the city-owned HeloPod, a 5,000-gallon tank resembling a shipping container that automatically refills as a helicopter sucks up water with an onboard snorkel.

“There were helicopters refilling every three to four minutes,” Kempf said. “When you see it in real-time, it’s so impressive.”

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department ordered Laguna Niguel residents in the area of Pacific Island Drive and Coronado Pointe to evacuate amid a “fast-moving brush fire,” according to a Tweet sent at 4:35 p.m. TV news helicopter footage showed houses burning on Coronado Pointe and Vista Court.

An Orange County Fire Authority helicopter crew and CalFire planes are attacking the blaze from the air, according to flight tracker ADS-B Exchange. The Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, and Anaheim fire departments are among those providing engines and firefighters.

Residents are asked to avoid the area and take alternate routes. Coast Highway remained open in both directions as of 6 p.m.

Orange County Sup. Lisa Bartlett underscored this was the second wildfire in her district this year. The Coastal Fire has eclipsed the 154-acre Emerald Fire that broke out Feb. 10 and smoldered for four days,

“It’s not easy when you see people’s homes on fire but we have a good team,” Bartlett said.

 

A view of a vegetation fire in Aliso Canyon as seen from Top of the World on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Trish Sweeney
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