By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Laguna Beach residents remembered the 26th anniversary of the 1993 wildfire this week while white-knuckling during the city’s second Red Flag warning within six days.
With fires burning across the state, winds were clocked at 19 mph at Main Beach and 31 mph in Aliso Woods Canyon on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. These speeds were far below the 65 mph winds that allowed the Easy Fire to race through Simi Valley.
“I’m glad we avoided another one, but there are a lot of cities in the southern region that didn’t,” said Jordan Villwock, emergency operations coordinator for Laguna Beach.
On Monday, Orange County firefighters drove through Laguna Beach to get familiar with the local streets, Villwock said.
During the Red Flag wind event, Laguna Beach police assigned officers for fire watch and staffed up in case of an evacuation order. The Laguna Beach Fire Department also called in additional firefighters to stand ready.
The Laguna Beach County Water District prepositioned electricity generators to power lift stations that push its water uphill. Laguna Beach school staffers staged school buses at Top of the World Elementary School in case students and staff needed to evacuate.
Laguna Beach’s community emergency response team was stationed at Alta Laguna Park to answer questions from residents. Laguna College of Art and Design campus safety officers even displayed red flags on their patrol cars.
“I think everyone—as they always do whenever there are critical condition—they stepped up to protect our community,” Villwock said.
On Tuesday, the Laguna Beach City Council approved an agreement with Newport Beach and Irvine that allows the cities to share emergency management staffers, facilities, planning, and technology during significant events.
“It’s extremely important,” he said. “The ability to have a partnership to use their community centers and shelters if we need to evacuate the city—having a backup plan is important.”
The agreements still need to be approved by the Newport Beach and Irvine city councils.
During the Woolsey Fire, Malibu was forced to relocate its emergency operations center to Santa Monica without any advanced planning, according to a staff report.
In August, Villwock filled in for his peer in Irvine, who was on vacation during the major power outage at and around John Wayne Airport. Emergency operations coordinators from both cities could fill in for Villwock if he was ill or on vacation when a disaster strikes.
The agreement formalizes relationships between emergency management professionals already in place and allows them to train together, Villwock said. Newport Beach and Laguna Beach share concerns about a tsunami striking the coast, while Laguna Beach and Irvine contend with wildfire risk in their hillside neighborhoods.
“This is one of those things that didn’t cost us any money, just coordination,” Councilmember Sue Kempf said. “I’m glad you got that done quickly because you don’t know, we might need that anytime now.”