Laguna Beach engine companies battled the uncontained Ventura County blaze early this week and local fire stations recalled personnel due to dangerous high-risk weather conditions, fire officials said Thursday.
The high-wind, low-humidity conditions will continue over much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with winds gusts up to 70 mph this afternoon and weakening Friday, the National Weather Service reports. There is a chance of an increase in winds again on Sunday, Dec. 10, the weather service reported Thursday.
Locally, temperatures are predicted in the 70s with wind speeds gusting to 25 mph and dropping by Saturday.
Laguna police imposed red-flag restrictions early in the week to ban private vehicles from certain areas in the steep, narrow streets of the Diamond Crestview neighborhood, to ensure the passage of emergency vehicles through chokepoints. Signs and electronic notices alerted residents of the restrictions.
Trained civilians also took up posts in the field to detect and report suspicious behavior, Fire Chief Kirk Summers said. Police Chief Laura Farinella redeployed beach patrol officers to Alta Laguna Park for nighttime fire lookout duty, Summers said.
Two three-man Laguna engines spent Monday and Tuesday working on the Thomas fire in Ventura, Summers said. In addition, two battalion chiefs were deployed as strike team leaders, supervising five engine companies with up to 22 firefighters, he said.
In three days, the Thomas fire has consumed 96,000 acres and destroyed 150 buildings, the Cal Fire website says. It is one of four active fires in Southern California, the state firefighting agency reports.
“So far as the home front is concerned, we have staffed our engines at four firefighters during this extreme weather event,” said Summers, meaning an extra person is assigned to each engine.
“We have held all of our folks on duty and done a general recall of off duty personnel,” he said. While typical daily department staffing is 13, today 24 firefighters are on duty, including those deployed in Ventura. “Some have been on duty for five or six days already,” Summers said.
While CERT volunteers are assisting the police beach patrol in Alta Laguna Park, Fire Safe Council volunteers are mobile, he said.
“Their mission is to talk with residents and visitors in regards to the elevated fire conditions, disaster preparedness, look out for any fires starting, report suspicious individuals/activity, and be a visual deterrent,” said Jordan Villwock, the city’s emergency coordinator.
One or two cars began patrolling Laguna Canyon Road during daylight this week and others have put out two dozen fire-alert flags, said David Horne, a local resident and chair of the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council. Volunteers “are looking for anything out of the ordinary,” he said, but as yet have not reported anything suspicious. The flags help “heighten awareness,” Horne said, such as in a person tempted to flick a cigarette butt out the window.
Prior to October’s heat wave, this is only the second declaration of red flag conditions in at least two fire seasons, said Horne, who welcomes new recruits. (Contact him at [email protected])
“I’m glad to see the city being pro-active under the current conditions,” said Matt Lawson, chair of the city’s emergency preparedness committee.
This story was updated with new information Thursday, Dec. 7