A state of emergency has been declared in the Californian city of Laguna Niguel as large homes overlooking the ocean near Laguna Beach have been engulfed in flames by a fast-moving brush fire.
The blaze – dubbed the Coastal Fire – ignited near a water treatment facility between Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach at 2.44pm local time, according to ABC7, and had grown to almost 200 acres by 8pm.
The fire is being fueled by strong winds and has whipped across hiking trails in the hills, already engulfing 20 homes in the exclusive enclave, where properties regularly sell for millions of dollars.
The fire is not currently threatening Laguna Beach itself, but is forcing evacuations in neighboring Laguna Niguel.
Around 4pm, people living in the area of Pacific Island Drive and Coronado Pointe were also ordered to evacuate by Orange County Sheriff’s officials. Homes along Coronado Pointe sell for $1-10 million, according to Zillow.
In addition, residents near Moulton Meadows and Balbo Nyes were advised to be prepared to flee at a moment’s notice.
Laguna Beach high school has been evacuated. There are no reports of any injuries.
Smoke is seen rising from the Coastal Fire which ignited near a water treatment facility between Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach at 2.44pm local time
The fire broke out around 2:44pm and swept through an area known for its hiking trails and ocean views
Firefighters were focused on limiting the damage to the multimillion dollar homes, and trying to preserve as much of the community as possible
A house in the pricey area is seen on fire as the blaze sweeps inland from the coast
The homes along Coronado Pointe, with their sweeping views down the valley to the ocean, sell for easily over $2 million, with several fetching $10 million according to Zillow
Firefighters can be seen using water cannon to try and save a blazing mansion in Laguna Niguel
A home is seen engulfed in flames just a few hours after the fire ignited in Orange County, California
A large home is seen burning after the Coastal Fire broke out on Tuesday afternoon. Residents have been told to evacuate
A fire truck is seen at the scene of the fire. Water-dropping helicopters are being used to try and fight the fire
Brian Fennessy, fire chief of the Orange County Fire Authority, told ABC 7 Los Angeles television that his team was trying to save as many homes as they could.
‘It’s all about defending the homes that have not already burned,’ Fennessy said from the scene.
‘The firefighters behind me are really putting on an aggressive fight.’
Fennessy said at a press conference on Wednesday night that he expected winds to die down after sunset, which would help slow the spread, and that there were no other major fires in Southern California, enabling firefighters from the area to concentrate their resources on Laguna Niguel.
The hilltop city of about 65,000 people is just inland from the coastal city of Laguna Beach about 50 miles south of Los Angeles.
Dry brush covers the surrounding hills and canyons, as California experiences historic drought.
‘Unfortunately I think this is what we’re going to be experiencing over the next several weeks and years,’ said Fennessy.
‘The vegetation is so dry it is not taking much for the fire to take off running and burn very quickly.’
Evacuations have been ordered in the area as authorities work to get the flames under control. Water-dropping helicopters are being used to try and fight the fire.
Luxury resort and golf course – The Ranch at Laguna Beach – has been evacuated.
Smoke could reportedly be seen for miles and the fire is zero percent contained.
‘I think everyone is aware we had a fire break out today near the Ranch,’ said Mike Garcia, the Laguna Beach fire chief.
‘It was a wind-driven fire. And since it started around 3 o’clock today it’s gone eastward.
‘It’s becoming a pretty big fire, burning several homes in the city of Laguna Niguel.
‘I want to tell our community that the city of Laguna Beach is safe. We don’t expect any changes.
‘But we want all of our residents to remain vigilant, be prepared, be aware.’
He said they would notify residents of any changes, but people should be prepared to ‘react quickly’.
Smoke can be seen rising up the canyon towards Coronado Pointe, along the rim of the hillside
Homes were ablaze along the exclusive street, which looks out to the ocean
Evacuations have been ordered in the area as authorities work to get the flames under control
Huge plumes of smoke rise into the air in Orange County, California – around Laguna Niguel
Ground and air crews from the Orange County Fire Authority and Laguna Beach Fire Department were working to extinguish flames moving uphill through light and moderately dense vegetation.
Winds gusting up to 20 mph were fanning the flames, and relative humidity in the area was measured at 52 percent, said Mark Moede, from the National Weather Service.
‘Gusts were up to 25 mph when the fire started,’ Moede said at about 5pm.
‘It will stay breezy for the next hour or so, but should drop-off as the sun drops below the horizon.’
The last major fire in the area was the Emerald fire on February 24.
The earlier fire grew to about 150 acres before it was extinguished.
The first three months of 2022 have been the driest on record.
Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, responded on Tuesday by pledging to spend $100 million on a statewide advertising campaign to encourage water conservation.
The campaign will include traditional radio and television spots while also paying people with large followings on social media to urge others to save water.
He also promised to spend an $211 million to conserve more water in state government buildings by replacing plumbing fixtures and irrigation controls.
In Los Angeles – the second most populous city in the U.S. – Mayor Eric Garcetti said residents and businesses would have to reduce outdoor landscape watering from three days per week to two.
Irrigation makes up 35 percent of the city’s water use.
Urban water use accounts for a relatively small percentage of California’s overall water use when compared to agriculture. But the state’s farmers have been suffering, too, as state and federal officials have reduced water allocations to zero in some places.
Demand for non-agriculture water is typically low in March, which comes near the end of the state’s rainy season. It can sometimes rain so much in March that it makes up for the rest of the year, a phenomenon officials have dubbed the ‘March miracle.’
But California got just 1 inch of precipitation in March while the temperatures were 3 degrees warmer than usual, further increasing water demand.
A series of April storms have improved things slightly since March.
Still, most of the state’s reservoirs are well below their historic averages.
The reservoirs depend on melted snow from the Sierra Nevada to replenish them for the dry summer months. But the statewide snowpack was at just 27 percent of its historic average as of April 1.
‘This is what we have. This is what we’re going to get. We can’t expect anything significant past this date,’ said Jeanine Jones, manager for interstate resources with the California Department of Water Resources.
State officials said 20 percent of the wells they monitor are reporting all-time low water levels, while nearly half of them have less than 10 percent of their historic averages.
In some cases, the state is helping to haul water to small communities that don’t have access to it. State officials said they were assisting 687 households through a small community drought relief program.
Some larger communities were also in danger.
Lindsay, a city of about 13,000 people in California’s Central Valley, was projected to run out of water on July 1.
Federal officials approved an additional allocation for the city, which they now say will have enough water to last through February – provided they continue to conserve.