Burning home
Firefighters outside a burning home in Laguna Niguel. Courtesy OnScene.TV

Firefighters are working Thursday to put out hot spots and lingering flames of a fire that swept through a ritzy neighborhood in Laguna Niguel prompting hundreds of households to evacuate and destroying multimillion-dollar homes.

More than 20 homes have been destroyed in Aliso Canyon in Orange Canyon that has consumed at least 200 acres, with no containment percentage available and no cause having been determined.

At a briefing at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, authorities released updates, including the following information:

— one firefighter was injured on Wednesday and taken to a hospital for evaluation;

— evacuation orders, both mandatory and voluntary, remain in place, with about 900 homes under evacuation;

— a hotline number for residents to receive information is 714-628-7085. An animal services information number is 949-470-3045, ext. 0; and

— information for residents is available at ocsheriff.gov/coastalfire.

The wind- and terrain-driven fire marched relentlessly through an enclave of multimillion-dollar estates on the hillside overlooking the ocean, leading to evacuations of dozens of residents and high school students in the community.

California has secured a fire management assistance grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure the availability of resources to battle the Coastal Fire in Orange County, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

The grant is provided through funds from the federal disaster relief fund and enables local, state and tribal agencies responding to the fire to apply for 75% reimbursement of their eligible fire suppression costs.

Southern California Edison, which has personnel and investigators on the scene, has sent a letter to the state Public Utilities Commission regarding “circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time” of the fire.

The Coastal Fire was reported at 2:44 p.m. Wednesday, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Sean Doran said. The fire originated near the South Orange County Wastewater Authority’s Coastal Treatment Plant, which handles sewage for the Laguna Beach area, said Orange County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Scott Steinle.

The fire was estimated to be about 3 acres as of 3:30 p.m., but spread to at least 30 acres by 5 p.m. Thirty minutes later, the OCFA put the blaze at 150 acres with no containment. Crews on scene estimated the size at about 200 acres by 6:15 p.m.

The flames spread quickly as they tore through thick brush on the hillside, aided by ocean winds that sparked spot fires ahead of the main blaze. The fire pushed its way uphill, advancing on Aliso Summit Trail and into the neighboring multimillion-dollar estates.

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said at a Wednesday night news conference that an estimated 20-plus homes had been destroyed. The flames crested a hilltop and advanced into an exclusive neighborhood, swallowing homes along La Vue and Coronado Pointe near the Aliso Summit Trail.

Sara Nuss-Galles, who lives on Via Estoril, told the Los Angeles Times she watched the fire grow for more than an hour before she evacuated the area.

“My clothes smell from the hour I spent in the house,” Nuss-Galles told The Times. “It’s just plumes of smoke. It’s very scary.”

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The flames advanced even as fixed-wing planes dropped fire retardant on the hillside in hopes of slowing the advance of the flames. Several water-dropping helicopters were also being employed in the firefight.

Evacuations were ordered in the Coronado Pointe and Pacific Island Drive areas, while voluntary evacuation orders were issued in the Balboa Nyes and Moulton Meadows neighborhoods in Laguna Beach. Students taking part in after-school activities at Laguna Beach High School were also evacuated, according to the school district.

Most schools and offices in the Laguna Beach Unified District were expected to be open and operating normally Thursday. Students at Moulton Elementary School in Laguna Niguel will be attending classes at Wood Canyon Elementary out of an abundance of caution, according to multiple reports.

Deputies were asking residents on San Simeon, Sierra Vista, Alta Terra, Nucella, Serana, Avante, Tanarron, Teracina, Islands Avenue, Capri Court, Sunrisa Lane, Chapala Court, Arelu Court and Anamonte to evacuate. An evacuation center was established at the Laguna Niguel Community Center at 28751 Crown Valley Parkway.

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