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Laguna Beach brush fire prompts evacuation of thousands; order lifted for Aliso Viejo

A wind-driven brush fire in Laguna Beach burned 120 acres Saturday, prompting the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents.

The fire was originally reported to have burned more than 250 acres, but that was downgraded to 120, officials said around 8:40 p.m. An aerial survey of the burn area gave firefighters a more accurate count of the acreage, they said.

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Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito said Saturday night that the winds that had moved the blaze earlier in the day calmed shortly after 7 p.m. Moist evening air also improved conditions for crews fighting the fire.

“We’re making a lot of progress,” Bommarito said. “It’s looking better.”

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The so-called Aliso fire, which was reported at about 1:15 p.m., forced the evacuation of 1,500 residents from the Top of the World and Old Top of the World neighborhoods in Laguna Beach, officials said.

Mandatory evacuations of about 2,000 homes started Saturday evening in neighboring Aliso Viejo, the Fire Authority said. However, that order was lifted at 9 p.m. after authorities determined the fire was no longer a threat to those homes, according to a tweet from the city of Aliso Viejo.

All animals were removed from the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter as a precaution, Laguna Beach police said.

The fire was burning heavy brush below Top of the World and behind Soka University in Aliso Viejo. There had been no containment as of 9 p.m., according to fire officials.

Costa Mesa High School’s prom, which was scheduled to be held at Soka University on Saturday night, was postponed because of the fire, said Newport-Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Annette Franco. It isn’t clear when it will be rescheduled.

More than 400 firefighters from Laguna Beach, Brea, Anaheim, Camp Pendleton, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Orange and the OCFA were on the scene.

Six air tankers and four helicopters were enlisted to fight the blaze. Two helicopters equipped with night vision were expected to work for several hours Saturday night. Multiple fire engines also were in place to defend structures.

A firefighter suffered a leg injury, but no other injuries or structure damage were reported.

Residents, many of whom remember the devastating wildfire that burned thousands of acres in Laguna Beach in 1993, quickly packed up and left their homes Saturday afternoon.

The evacuated neighborhoods in Laguna Beach are along Alta Laguna Boulevard and Park Avenue toward Bern Drive and Temple Hills Drive toward Dorn Court, police said.

A reception center for evacuees was established at the Laguna Beach Community & Susi Q Center at 380 Third St.

The flames chewed through brush left bone-dry by years of drought conditions across Southern California. The region saw a devastating fire season last year, with homes lost from San Diego to Bel-Air to Sylmar to Montecito. The Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties made history as the largest on record in California.

Experts have warned the continued dry conditions make more big fires likely.

9:45 p.m.: This article was updated with the evacuation order being lifted in Aliso Viejo.

9:10 p.m.: This article was updated with the downgrade on the acres burned, plus additional details.

8:30 p.m.: This article was updated with the latest figure on the acres burned, plus additional details..

6:25 p.m.: This article was updated with new figures on the acres burned and the number of evacuees, plus other details..

5:10 p.m.: This article was updated with new figures on the acres burned and the number of evacuees.

4:30 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

This article was originally published at 3:20 p.m.

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