Fast-Moving Brush Fire Burns at Least 20 Million-Dollar Homes Near Laguna Beach

Smoke from the Coastal Fire wildfire rises above a residential area in Laguna Niguel. Tim Wheaton/via REUTERS

A wind- and terrain-driven fire chewed through at least 200 acres of brush in Aliso Wood Canyon between Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach Wednesday, then marched relentlessly through an enclave of multimillion-dollar estates on the hillside overlooking the ocean, destroying at least 20 homes.

The Coastal Fire was reported at 2:44 p.m., 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 three 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.

OCFA 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.

Deputies were asking residents on San Simeon, Sierrra 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, Steinle said.

Updated at 10:10 p.m., Wednesday, May 11, 2022