Letter: ’93 Fire touched the lives of Lagunans

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The terrible Laguna Beach wildfire was thirty years ago, taking place on October 27, 1993. This unsolved crime was quite an event, touching the lives of most all Lagunans. Over the years, noting the anniversaries, the Laguna Beach Historical Society sponsored programs on the Laguna wildfire and included information from the Orange County Fire Authority Director of Fire Services Chief Larry Holms’ “Orange County Firestorm 1993” report.

The weather on Oct. 27, 1993 was typical Santa Ana conditions with winds at 40 mph, gusts up to 92 mph, 78 degrees but with a relative humidity of only 6 – 7%. The natural plants surrounding Laguna Beach only had a moisture level of about 4%.

The summary: started by an arsonist, destroyed or severely damaged 441 homes, burned 14,337 acres, causing $528,000,000 in damage.

The speed of the fire was phenomenal:

· Top half of Emerald Canyon burned at a rate of 100 acres per minute

· Flashed across Laguna Canyon Road in 6 places, leap up 2/3’s slope; 200-foot flame heights

· Fire burned 1.25 miles of brush in 17 minutes to Canyon Acres

· Overran Fire Department Command Post at Thurston School

· Jumped Park Ave; Temple Hills Dr. 27 homes lost

The timeline 11:50 a.m. – 911 calls, by 2 p.m., the fires reached Emerald Bay and Boat Canyon, jumping Laguna Canyon Road, reaching Canyon Acres about 3:30 p.m. The fire raced up the hillside to Skyline /Mystic Hills at about 4 p.m., with the extent of the fire being about 5 p.m., reaching El Morro & Temple Hills. At about 10 p.m., the winds shifted, and the fire was declared contained about midnight.

There was a tremendous amount of mutual aid from other communities, including: 345 fire engines, 17 dozers, 30 aircraft, 11 hand crews, and a total of 1,968 fire personnel.

Thankfully, not a single life was lost.

This information is taken from the Orange County Fire Authority report “Orange County Firestorm 1993”, A Report to the County Board of Supervisors by Larry J. Holms.

Chief Holms also reported, “Law enforcement used both north and southbound lanes of Coast Highway to channel bumper-to-bumper evacuation traffic out of the City: residents evacuated southward, while firefighters and their vehicles funneled in from the north. Fires hit the El Morro Mobile Home Park, the community of Emerald Bay, Skyline Drive, Canyon Acres and the Laguna Skyline area.”

“The air tankers, delayed by priorities from the other numerous fires burning in Southern California at the time, would not arrive until approximately 1:40 p.m., 1 hour and 32 minutes from the initial request by the incident commander.” “OCFD’s Laguna incident command staff believed immediate air support could have made the Laguna fire manageable during the first quarter hour of its spread. Helicopters could have made water drops on the head of the fire.”

The Orange County Fire Authority subsequently obtained two County firefighting helicopters. At least one helicopter is staffed each day, with a crew of two, from the Fullerton Airport during daylight hours. A partial list of other improvements includes building two large water reservoirs at high elevations, installing an 800 megahertz communication system, substantially widening fuel modification zone around City, Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council’s Red Flag Program, and fire condition signs. www.YouTube.com has many video clips of the October 27, 1993 wildfire, including programs by the Laguna Beach Historical Society. Those interested in supporting and joining the Laguna Beach Historical Society should go to their website at https://lagunabeachhistory.org/.

Gene Felder, Laguna Beach

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