My neighbor calls. “There is another fire near the homeless shelter again.” My wife and I rush to our outdoor deck to see flames jetting up through the canyon chaparral behind the homeless shelter.
It’s Friday before Thanksgiving, just turning dusk. We see several fire engines on Laguna Canyon Road in front of the homeless shelter. The canyon is closed. I call the mayor, Steve Dicterow. As he picks up, a water dropping helicopter flies directly over our home, going to the fire, an eighth of a mile away. Steve assured us that the fire captain would do all that is possible.
Luckily, there was not a breath of air that night, uncommon for the canyon. The water dropping helicopters and the multitude of Orange County fire departments got the fire out in about four hours with several hot spots to check.
We can no longer have the homeless shelter in the most volatile fire danger area in our city limits. For the safety of the homeless and for the safety of all families in Laguna Beach, we must find a place for the homeless that is less vulnerable to fire and easier to monitor.
Once the shelter is full, the homeless are turned away. They do have other options, but most choose to go into the canyon and make encampments in the dry chaparral area. The brush, the trees, the dry grass is no place for encampments that include open flames, cigarettes and paraphernalia. It is impossible to monitor these hills.
The homeless need to be moved into an area that can be well monitored, for all of our safety. Remember that the last big fire that ravaged through Laguna and destroyed over 300 homes? It started in the canyon. This fire is one of several that have occurred near the homeless shelter.
The next morning, with this current fire still smoldering, we capture images of some homeless leaving the shelters. The woman is smoking and passing a lighter to the man. And there are firemen still on the line extinguishing last night’s near catastrophe.
People of Laguna: smell the smoke before it is too late. Get this eminent threat of fire out of Laguna Canyon. Now. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when. In a lasting drought, a dry, unmoniterable canyon is not the place to shelter homeless, who smoke cigarettes and start fires.
If this occurred a week later when the Santa Ana winds were blowing, it would have been catastrophic for Laguna Beach.
Greg Nichols, Laguna Beach
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