LAGUNA BEACH, CA — Firefighters battled a large brush fire Thursday morning in the north Laguna Beach community of Emerald Bay.
Evacuations were ordered in Irvine Cove, North and South Emerald Bay and the North Coast Area. Evacuation warnings were in place for North Laguna Beach, and much of the Pacific Coast Highway was closed during the firefight.
All Laguna Beach schools were canceled for the day, according to the Laguna Beach Unified School District.
The fire ignited around 4 a.m. Thursday amid strong Santa Ana winds that pushed the fire north and west throughout the hillside area near Pacific Coast Highway. Just over 10 acres had burned as of 7:30 a.m. through the light-to-medium brush, but the fire was “looking pretty good” in terms of its spread being kept to a minimum, according to fire officials.
Flames were still pushing north, and the fire was pressed up against the ridge as of 7:45 a.m.
“We’ll have containment sometime this morning,” Chief Brian Fennessy of the Orange County Fire Authority said in a news conference.
No homes were damaged, although firefighters are now most concerned that the blaze could spread north toward Newport Beach, he said.
There is no threat to the city of Irvine, Aliso Viejo or south Laguna Beach as of this report.
Firefighters have engines in front of nearly every home in the unincorporated gated community of Emerald Bay, all multimillion-dollar residences in close proximity to one another.
Evacuation warnings were set for all of North Laguna, which includes all those in the area north of Broadway, according to the city.
“Homes are currently threatened with the possibility of more structures threatened if the fire spreads,” the city said in a news release.
“It doesn’t appear to have involved any homes yet, fortunately,” Bob Caldwell, an evacuated Emerald Bay resident, told CBS 2.
Along with schools, the brush fire also forced the Thursday closure of Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, as well as Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.
Evacuation Centers are open both at the Susi Q Center in Laguna Beach and the Los Olivos Community Center in Irvine at 101 Alonso, Irvine.
Strong Santa Ana winds fueled the early morning flames, though the fire was considered “slow-moving,” according to fire officials. The National Weather Service reported wind speeds up to 49 mph in the area. The area is under a Santa Ana wind advisory until 4 p.m.
Firefighters from the Laguna Beach Fire Department, Orange County Fire Authority and surrounding agencies from Los Angeles to Anaheim Fire battled the ferocious blaze from both air and ground. Multiple other agencies have joined in the fight, as this is the sole fire burning in the Golden State this week.
More than two dozen engines and eight strike teams of engines were sent to the fire, along with three helicopters. Bulldozers created fire breaks, halting the progression amid the gusting winds. The neighborhood is locked down, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is in the area to ensure no looting occurs during the evacuations.
Fennessy noted the blaze is supposed to be atypical for this time of year but has become more commonplace in recent years.
Laguna Beach’s ample fire preparation and emergency planning helped the city quickly evacuate Emerald Bay and Irvine Cove residents, according to city officials. As smoke blanketed Irvine cove Thursday morning, the memory of the 1993 wildfire that destroyed 441 homes in Laguna Beach remains close on everyone’s mind, Fennessy said.
“It’s Feb. 10. It’s supposed to be the middle of winter,” he said. “We’re anticipating 80- to 90-degree weather here. We no longer have a fire season, we have a fire year.”
He added: “If this is any sign, we’re in for a long year.”
The cause of the Laguna Beach fire is not yet known. The blaze ignited in the middle of the brush-filled hillside above the unincorporated Emerald Bay community, sparking questions among residents. Overnight, a large power outage affected 2,400 residents of the city.
Sarah Shtylman told Patch in a direct message Thursday she was getting ready for the day and noticed a bright orange glow near her home.
“I was concerned because it seemed clear it was a fire, but I wasn’t sure where/how far away, so I started looking on Google and Twitter to track down what was going on. I couldn’t find anything conclusive except for other user-submitted photos so I took photos and videos and posted them,” she told Patch.