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Laguna Beach : Arson Suspected in Fires at Condemned Buildings

Two condemned dwellings on South Coast Highway were damaged by fire late Monday and investigators said Tuesday that they believe that the blazes were intentionally set.

Both buildings had been boarded up, Fire Battalion Chief Joe McClure said, but transients had repeatedly broken into the structures for temporary shelter.

McClure said witnesses reported seeing a man fleeing the first fire at a house at 609 S. Coast Highway moments after the blaze erupted at 6:10 p.m. The house--damaged in a landslide and condemned in 1970--is perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean, McClure said.

That fire was started in a ground-floor storage room, McClure said. Firefighters were able to squelch the flames quickly, McClure said.

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The second fire started at about 7:45 p.m. at an apartment building just down the street at 511 S. Coast Highway, McClure said. The blaze caused extensive damage to a ground-floor apartment and lesser damage to a unit directly above it, he said.

It took nearly three hours to control the fire because the apartments had undergone considerable remodeling before the building was condemned. Firefighters had to chop through double and triple walls, McClure said.

Investigators believe that the fires were purposely set, but they had no suspects as of late Tuesday. They said they could not determine the cost of the damage.


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