Fanned by offshore winds, a brush fire exploded in Laguna Niguel Wednesday, consuming nearly 200 acres and destroying 20 homes.
The blaze, dubbed the Coastal Fire, broke out around 2:45 p.m. in Aliso Woods Canyon, prompting evacuation orders as the fire advanced on an upscale gated community with multimillion-dollar homes.
Residents fled the coastal area as homes went up in flames and the fire tore through the steep terrain, fueled by extremely dry vegetation created by California’s continuing drought.
Aerial video from Sky5 showed flames gutting multiple homes as thick smoke billowed over the area.
As of Thursday evening, at least 20 homes had been destroyed and 11 were damaged, according to OC Fire Authority Chief Shane Sherwood. The blaze is 15% contained.
“It got out of hand,” Newport Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Nick Lucus told KTLA. “That was mainly because of the wind.”
Hundreds of firefighters from multiple agencies, on the ground and in the air, rushed to save homes from the fast-approaching blaze and worked through the night.
“Today is not something we’re used to seeing this time of year or even during these types of conditions,” O.C. Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said Wednesday. “We continue to talk about a fire year. The fuel moisture is so low that these fires are taking off and running on us. Unfortunately, I believe this is what we’re going to be experiencing over the next several months and over the next several years.”
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Southern California Edison told state regulators that electrical “circuit activity” occurred around the time the destructive fire started.
“Our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire. Our investigation is ongoing,” the utility said in the report to the California Public Utilities Commission.
Two firefighters were injured while battling the fire on Wednesday and taken to a hospital, officials said. They have since been released.
An estimated 900 homes were still under evacuation orders as of Thursday evening.
Evacuation orders have been issued in the Pacific Island area for Coronado Pointe Drive, Vista Court and Via Las Rosa.
The area north of the intersection of Flying Cloud Drive and Pacific Island Drive to the intersection of Highlands Avenue and Pacific Island Drive is under mandatory evacuation orders.
There’s also a voluntary evacuation warning for residents in the area south of Flying Cloud Drive and Pacific Island Drive to the intersection of Pacific Island Drive and Crown Valley Parkway.
A care and reception center was set up for evacuees at the Crown Valley Community Center at 29751 Crown Valley Parkway.
Those traveling to the evacuation center are urged to avoid driving on Pacific Island Drive from Highlands Avenue to Crown Valley Parkway.
Evacuation orders will remain in place overnight Thursday, fire officials said.
Residents who need help with animal evacuations can call Mission Viejo Animal Services at 949-470-3045.
Air quality authorities have issued a smoke advisory for Orange County in the Saddleback Valley, Central Coastal area and Capistrano Valley, saying smoke from the Coastal Fire may pose a health danger to some residents, especially those in certain high-risk groups.
Hot and dry conditions are expected the next two days, increasing fire risk in the area.
On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help ensure vital resources are available to suppress the Coastal Fire.