Wildfire near Laguna Beach destroys 20 homes and forces 900 residents to evacuate

Crews are battling a fast-moving wildfire outside Los Angles that authorities said destroyed 20 high-priced homes and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate. The blaze, already dubbed the Coastal Fire, broke out in brush between the cities of Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach just before 3 p.m. local time Wednesday and quickly spread to residential areas, CBS Los Angeles reports.

The fire has gobbled up 200 acres and is 15% contained, Orange County Fire Authority division chief Shane Sherwood said during a Thursday evening press conference.

Two firefighters were hospitalized for injuries and released, Sherwood said. No other injuries or deaths have been reported.

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Crews extinguish flames from the Coastal Fire on Thursday, May 12, 2022. @OCFireAuthority

In addition to the destroyed homes, 11 have been damaged in the fire, Sherwood said. An estimated 900 Laguna Niguel residents are currently under evacuation orders, Virgil Asuncion, chief of Police Services for the city of Laguna Niguel, said Thursday evening.

“We know we’ve lost some homes,” Asuncion said. “This is devastating and has major impacts to our entire community. We are here to support you and support the city.”

Sherwood said Thursday evening that officials are still investigating the cause of the fire, but Southern California Edison disclosed that it had told state officials of “circuit activity” in the area where the blaze broke out as it erupted. 

Officials said the flames began as a 50-by-50 foot vegetation fire Wednesday afternoon but grew in a hurry, aided by ocean winds, and advanced toward hillside estates overlooking the Pacific. At least five multimillion-dollar houses were scorched. One was a mansion listed for $10 million.

California Wildfires
Firefighters work to put out flames during wildfire on May 11, 2022, in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Marcio J. Sanchez / AP

Officials said the area’s steep terrain was making it difficult to run hose lines and get ground crews where they needed to be. Fixed-wing planes dropping fire retardant and water-dropping helicopters were being used.

“We have the entire region focused on this fire right now to make sure we have every fire engine available in the area to put this fire out,” Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said.

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said during a news conference Wednesday night, “Unfortunately, I think this is what we’re going to be experiencing over the next several weeks and years. The vegetation is so dry it is not taking much for the fire to take off running and burn very quickly.” 

Students at Laguna Beach High School were evacuated from their after-school activities Wednesday.

California Wildfires
A firefighter works to extinguish flames from a wildfire on May 11, 2022, in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

CBS Los Angeles reports that a cat was rescued from one of the homes earlier Wednesday. Fire officials also reported hearing what they believed was ammunition exploding in one of the houses that was ablaze.  

Video shared on social media showed massive plumes of smoke.

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