Orange County fire: Hundreds remain under evacuation orders as coastal fire engulfs at least 20 homes

Orange County fire: Hundreds remain under evacuation orders as coastal fire engulfs at least 20 homes

There are concerns the embers could spread in the coming days as California and the region expect temperatures 10 to 15 degrees above average through early next week, with forecast highs topping 100 degrees in parts of the state, CNN said -Meteorologist Taylor Ward.

Allan Aguilera and his family decided to evacuate Laguna Niguel on Wednesday when they saw the extent of the blaze from a neighborhood lookout, he told CNN.

“When we got to the top, we saw the full extent of the fire and witnessed how quickly it spread,” he said. “There were tons of people in the area doing the same and watching the fire before the wind changed and started urging the flames closer and closer. At this point we decided to leave and prepare for a possible evacuation.

“The situation was incredibly tense, but we kept our cool, gathered our most prized belongings… and evacuated early to avoid potential shortages should the worst-case scenario materialize,” he added.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, although investigators say the “circuit activity” was “temporary” at the time it was reported, Southern California Edison said in an initial incident report released Wednesday. The utility gave no further details on circuit activity, and fire officials did not offer or confirm any details during a news conference Thursday.

A home burns on Coronado Pointe Wednesday during the Laguna Niguel Coastal Fire.

Two firefighters were treated at a hospital while about 550 firefighters worked to contain the blaze, said Orange County Fire Department chief and incident commander Shane Sherwood.

The sudden fire surprised the officials

The speed and intensity of the coastal fire shocked officials and scientists, who said there was not a high risk of fire on Wednesday. While the winds that helped fuel the fire reached up to 30 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service, the gusts off the Pacific were cool and humid.

“The humidity was high, which isn’t necessarily optimal for getting these types of burns,” Greg Martin, meteorologist at the San Diego Weather Service office, said Thursday. “I was really surprised when I saw the plume of smoke on my way to work last night and wondered what was burning.

“It wasn’t what I would have thought an ideal situation, and yet we had a significant fire,” he said.

'It's way too early': Forecasters surprised by speed and severity of Orange County fire

Though the winds weren’t typical of high fire risk, the region is suffering from an ongoing intense drought, the US Drought Monitor says. Dry scrub and vegetation will increasingly feed fires like the one in Orange County, the county fire chief said.

“The fuel beds in this county, throughout Southern California, throughout the West are so dry that fires like this are going to be more common,” said Brian Fennessy.

“We’re seeing spread in a way we’ve never had before,” he said. “Five years ago, ten years ago, a fire like that might have grown to an acre, a few acres” before the fire department could control it. But now “fire is spreading and taking off in this very dry vegetation.”

Residents in the Laguna Niguel neighborhoods were under mandatory evacuation orders Wednesday and Thursday as city officials declared a state of emergency to allow quick access to resources.

Firefighters battle the coastal fire in Laguna Niguel on Wednesday.

The West faces a new climate reality

The coastal fire comes as the West suffers from a multi-year drought that is unlikely to ease in the coming months, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s spring outlook.
Experts are concerned about how early the fires will strike this year in California, where fire season has historically peaked from late summer. In January, over 600 acres of the state’s Monterey County were burned by the Colorado Fire.

“It’s a consequence of climate change, it’s a consequence of the drought that we’re experiencing,” Issac Sanchez, communications chief for the Cal Fire Battalion, told CNN. “The Coastal Fire is a vivid example of how you don’t need thousands of acres burned to meet.”

The mega drought in the West will continue and potentially worsen in the coming months.  Water availability is a big problem

“It’s way too early” for a fire like the Southern California Coast Fire, said Bill South, a weather forecaster with the National Weather Service in Hanford. “This has the potential to be a very bad fire season. And as everyone knows, we’re in the middle of a drought here in the entire state of California.”

In the past week alone, extreme drought spread from 40% to 60% of the state, the US Drought Monitor reported Thursday, and January through April were California’s driest first four months of the year on record.
The extreme drought conditions sweeping the west are the worst in centuries, a recent study has found. Researchers found that the period from 2000 to 2021 was the driest in 1,200 years.

CNN’s Rachel Ramirez, Angela Fritz, Chad Myers, Ella Nilsen, Stephanie Elam, Christina Maxouris, Aya Elamroussi, Sarah Moon, and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.