A late afternoon wildfire fueled by gusty winds exploded along a ridgeline in Laguna Niguel on Wednesday, burning an estimated 20 homes valued between $2.6 million and $10 million.
The blaze ignited near a water treatment plant in Aliso Woods Canyon, then tore through steep terrain before consuming 200 acres between Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach by sundown, the Orange County Register and CBS Los Angeles reported. One firefighter was hurt, and taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Embers from the fire swept over a ridge near Aliso Summit Trail, swirling into the crawl spaces and attics of the hilltop estates, firefighters said.
By nightfall, the uncontained fire had burned an estimated 20 homes, including a seven-bedroom, eight-bath estate in the gated community of Coronado Pointe. The 10,000-square-foot house, overlooking Laguna Beach and Ranch Golf Course, was listed for $9.6 million, according to Zillow.
In the Coronado Pointe neighborhood, multi-million dollar homes also burned along the 30300 block of La Vue, CBS Los Angeles reported, with the blaze jumping from home to home.
While one home may have been spared, another next to it might have been destroyed, depending on how the embers flew.
The flames advanced even as fixed-wing planes dropped fire retardant on the hillside, and helicopters dumped water on the flames. Crews from firefighting agencies across the region, including CAL Fire, have been brought in to battle the blaze.
The cause is still under investigation. However, in a publicly released report Wednesday night, Southern California Edison disclosed that there was “circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire.”
Another 100 homes potentially lay in the fire’s path, including homes on Coronado Pointe Drive, Vista Court, and Via Las Rosa, firefighters said.
The fast-moving brush fire prompted the mandatory and voluntary evacuation of about 900 homes in Coronado Point and Pacific Island Drive, plus the luxury resort and golf course.
Residents near Moulton Meadows and Balbo Nyes in Laguna Beach were advised to be prepared to flee at a moment’s notice.
Winds gusting up to 20 mph were fanning the flames, and relative humidity in the area was measured at 52 percent, National Weather Service meteorologists said, with gusts up to 25 mph when the fire started.
“The big difference is, and we’re seeing it again, y’know, with climate change,” said OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy. “The fuel beds in this county, throughout Southern California, throughout the West are so dry that a fire like this is going to be more commonplace.
“Five years ago, 10 years ago, a fire like this would likely have been stopped very small,” he said.
A temporary shelter was set up at Crown Valley Community Center on Crown Valley Parkway. Among the evacuees were Cheryl Flohr and her husband Mark, whose 48,500-square-foot home in Palmea was next to the hard-hit community of Coronado Pointe.
“Fred Minegar, (mayor in 2020) immediately engaged and drove up and down the streets honking letting residents know,” Cheryl Flohr said. “They were so ready for us. I’m proud of my community and Laguna Niguel.”