A brush fire scorched about 145 acres in the hills above the exclusive Emerald Bay community in Laguna Beach Thursday, threatening but not damaging any of the multimillion-dollar homes in the area, but prompting evacuation orders and forcing schools to close.
The fire was reported at about 4:10 a.m. and spread quickly throughout the hillside area near Pacific Coast Highway.
A short time later, the city of Laguna Beach issued an “immediate evacuation order” for the communities of Irvine Cove and Emerald Bay. An evacuation warning was issued for the North Laguna area. Evacuation centers were established at the Los Olivos Community Center, 101 Alfonso, Irvine, and Laguna Beach Community Center, 380 Third St.
Pacific Coast Highway was closed between Broadway in Laguna Beach and Newport Coast Drive in Newport Beach.
OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy said at a 7:30 a.m. briefing the fire had only scorched about 7 to 10 acres. But around 9 a.m., Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley reported that the blaze had been fully mapped at 145 acres.
The flames erupted in the midst of Santa Ana winds that prompted a wind advisory in the area. The flames were being driven primarily by the winds and mountain terrain. The hillsides are filled with thick, dry brush. The area has not had a significant fire since 1993.
Fire crews from the Orange County Fire Authority were deployed, along with personnel from the Laguna Beach Fire Department, assisted by water-dropping helicopters in a mutual-aid response from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Also, law enforcement personnel, including those from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol were deployed to secure the area, Fennessy said.
No structures were damaged and no injuries were reported.
“We’ve got almost an engine in front of every home — that’s how robust the response was,” Fennessy said. “It was really the north end of Emerald Bay … an unincorporated area of Orange County. So, the fire literally was pushed north along the edges of those homes on the northern edge, and so they were not directly impacted.”
Winds are expected to die down Thursday afternoon, but firefighters were closely monitoring the winds because “they can pick right up again,” Fennessy said.
“And so, our biggest concern would be that fire moving north, jumping where we’ve got it held right now, and moving north towards Newport Beach,” Fennessy said. “I’m satisfied with the number of resources we have at scene, and we have en route; and at this time, I’m feeling pretty confident we’ve got a pretty good handle on this fire right now. … The bulk of the fire is away from the structures now.”
The massive hillside blaze forced the cancellation of classes Thursday at all schools in the Laguna Beach Unified School District — El Morro Elementary School, Top of the World Elementary, Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, Fennessy said.