In 1993, the Laguna Beach fire, dubbed “One of the 20 Largest Fires Losses in U.S. History”, burned 16,000 acres, destroying over 400 homes and causing $528 million dollars in damage, according to the Orange County Register. Starting on Oct. 27, 1993, a brush fire in Laguna Canyon spread at phenomenally fast rates, burning the top half of Emerald Canyon at 100 acres per minute. Fire flashed across Laguna Canyon Road, leaping up the slope with 200-foot flames. The Laguna Beach Fire devastated the community. However, local ecosystems bore the real brunt, as entire populations of species were engulfed by the flames with no escape.
A wildlife corridor is a strip of habitat connecting two ecosystems. Without an adequate wildlife corridor, which would typically allow animals to flee an area during a catastrophic event and re-colonize soon after, species were trapped. The loss of biodiversity was devastating, killing nearly one in five of the County’s gnatcatchers, a serious setback for the federally-listed threatened songbird. Poor escape routes coupled with the rapid spread of the fire resulted in repercussions that are still visible today, nearly 30 years later, as many species struggle to reach population rates prior to the fire.
The need for a wildlife corridor has become more critical than ever. As we transition into the peak of 2021’s fire season (which has extended to nearly year round due to impacts from climate change), the central Orange County coastal wilderness is yet again at risk of another devastating fire. Without proper evacuation routes, threatened species still recovering from 1993 cannot endure yet another disastrous fire. The Laguna Greenbelt, Inc. is leading a coalition to pursue the completion of a Irvine-Laguna Wildlife Corridor that would allow the movement of wildlife between the 22,000-acre Greenbelt and the more than 150,000 acres of natural land in the Cleveland National Forest and Santa Ana Mountain foothills. However, they need your help. While the risk of wildfires is inevitable, the impacts on wildlife are not. As wildfires increase in severity and we enter yet another climate change-induced drought, it is imperative that we focus more attention and resources on biodiversity conservation and a completed corridor.
Lilie Kulber, Laguna Beach
Editor’s Note: Lilie is a senior at Laguna Beach High School and intern with Laguna Greenbelt, Inc.