Laguna Beach mulls NDA with Cal Fire, OCFA over Coastal Fire probe

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An Orange County Fire Authority truck was parked in the Coastal Fire burn area north of the SOCWA Coastal Treatment Plant on Wednesday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Laguna Beach is on track to enter into a non-disclosure agreement with county and state agencies regarding the inter-agency investigation of the Coastal Fire’s cause.

On Tuesday, the City Council will consider authorizing City Manager Shohreh Dupuis to execute the agreement being coordinated by the Safety and Enforcement Division of the California Public Utilities Commission and joined by the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection, Orange County Fire Authority, and the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety.

“The NDA is intended to allow for the confidential sharing of information between the multiple parties related to the investigation of the cause of the fire and quicker resolution of findings,” Laguna Beach fire chief Mike Garcia wrote in a staff report.

City staffers would remain bound by the confidentiality provisions of the NDA until the information is approved for release, Garcia wrote in an email. Councilmembers will not have any information to share on the probe’s findings until that time either.

“Like most investigations, there is not any information to share until the investigative report is complete and determinations are made and released,” Garcia wrote.

Firefighters completed containment of the Coastal Fire after working in hot weather and steep terrain for six days, fire officials said May 17. The fire consumed 200 acres and destroyed 10 homes in the Coronado Pointe neighborhood of Laguna Niguel. Another 11 homes were damaged. Two firefighters injured on the fire line are “recovering and doing well”, an OCFA spokesperson said.

The Coastal Fire’s cause remains under investigation. Southern California Edison notified the California Public Utilities Commission that its grid experienced “circuit activity” in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park at 2:45 p.m. on May 11, according to an email obtained by Los Angeles Times.

A lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court by Laguna Niguel homeowners claims that the fire was sparked by Edison’s “negligently operated, repaired and maintained electrical equipment” and the utility’s failure to clear vegetation away from its lines.

City staffers declined to comment on what they’re doing to pressure SCE to be more proactive in repairing its utility lines in Laguna Beach.

Another power outage impacted 2,450 Laguna Beach customers on Friday. Laguna Beach firefighters responded to a 911 call reporting a utility pole fire on Catalina Street between Anita and Oak streets on Friday morning. Video recorded by a resident shows a fire burning the top of the utility pole.

Laguna Beach was not part of the investigation of the Emerald Fire’s cause and was not asked to join a similar non-disclosure agreement. That blaze did not damage any structures in February. The cause of that blaze also remains under investigation.

This story is developing and will be updated.

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  1. Laguna was lucky to dodge both the recent fires on its boundaries, unfortunately Laguna Niguel was not. The city shouldn’t need to pressure SCE or any power company to be proactive in managing their power lines. The city should consider a mandatory under grounding of all power lines within the city. Imagine if the winds were blowing when the power line blew up on Catalina the other day or the next time it happens and it will happen again!

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