‘I knew those houses were gone’: What it was like as fire ravaged Laguna Niguel community

A firefighter hoses down a home
A firefighter hoses down a home while battling a brush fire at Coronado Pointe in Laguna Niguel on Wednesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Sonia Moser, 52, stood on her deck, looking up at the sky since about 3 p.m., helicopters whirring above her house in the El Niguel Country Club golf course community.

She smelled the smoke first and emerged from her home to see the fire grow quickly. The wind has since seemed to have shifted directions, blowing smoke to the east. Just in case there’s an evacuation order in her area, Moser has been preparing her belongings.

The wind has been one factor in the spread, and the size of the homes has also made containing the blaze difficult, officials said.

May 11, 2022


She said she has friends closer to the fire who have already been evacuated from their homes. Fire aircraft have been flying between the fire and the golf course since the fire started, picking up water from its lake to take to the fire.

“I’m standing on my deck. I see a bunch of smoke and helicopters and airplanes flying around — big, thick black smoke,” she said.

As firefighters battled to save homes in the Coronado Pointe neighborhood, fleeing residents wondered whether theirs had survived.

May 11, 2022

She could see some flames, “like an orange glow,” on the ridge in the distance. “We have the TV on, and I come out to see the fire and go back in to see the news. I feel bad for those families. It’s just devastating.”

The fire had raced through the community, destroying at least 20 miles in the Coronado Pointe area. No injuries have been reported.

Around 5:30 p.m. Orange County sheriff’s deputies drove down Via Estoril announcing via loudspeaker, “There’s a fire coming. Evacuate.”


Kevin Kothlow decided to stay.

Kothlow, who works with Team Rubicon, an organization specializing in disaster response, has done fire mitigation training and believed his skills would be better put to use watching his home and his neighbors’ homes. He pulled the garden hoses out and made sure the area was prepped for firefighters.

Driven by winds from the ocean, the Coastal fire roared into an Orange County subdivision, destroying 20-plus homes, authorities said.

May 12, 2022

He also scolded one of his neighbors for turning on the sprinklers, he said, because it just pulls water pressure away from firefighters’ hoses.

“I can see the winds blowing through the canyon, but the winds on my side of the hill have dropped,” Kothlow said. “I’m looking at the weather and by 9 o’clock tonight they’re down to 7 miles an hour, so I think we’re gonna be good by then. I’m just kind of waiting to see what happens.”

Kothlow could smell the fire before he saw it.

“I went to the top of Pacific Island [Drive], and I could see the fire burning in the canyon. The fire was just getting stronger, and the smoke was getting thicker and thicker,” Kothlow said.

He walked down a trail near Coronado Pointe and watched the fire race up the hill. The smoke was so thick that Kothlow could barely see the sun.


“It literally just ran up the hill,” he said. “I saw it hit the palm trees, and as soon as I saw that I knew those houses were gone. You could see the embers blowing through the air.”