A wind-driven brush fire in Laguna Beach scorched 120 acres Saturday and threatened hundreds of nearby homes, but a mandatory evacuation order for more than 2,100 homes was eventually lifted.
The fire was originally reported to have burned more than 250 acres, but that was later downgraded, officials reported late Saturday. An aerial survey of the burn area was able to give firefighters a more accurate account of the acreage.
Fire crews also got a break late in the day as erratic winds appeared to die down.
“Firefighters making good progress while wind has diminished somewhat,” read a tweet from the fire authority’s public information office.
A mandatory evacuation order for 1,500 residents of Top of the World, a Laguna Beach neighborhood, remained in effect Saturday night, fire officials said. But an evacuation order for 2,100 homes in Aliso Viejo was lifted at 9 p.m..
“The biggest battle has been the thick brush that hasn’t burned in over 100 years, and the erratic winds,” said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito. Six air tankers and four helicopters had been enlisted to fight the blaze, he said.
He said 400 firefighters were on scene, assembled from many agencies around the region. The fire was 0% contained Saturday night.
“There will be firefighters out there all night and all day tomorrow,” Bommarito said.
The fire broke out shortly after 1:30 p.m. below the Top of the World scenic lookout point and behind Soka University of America, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.
The flames chewed through brushed 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 and Bel-Air to Sylmar and Montecito. The Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties made history as the largest on record in California.
Experts have warned that the continued dry conditions make more big fires likely, and the Laguna blaze is shaping up to be one of the biggest in months.
The fire was burning in the hills above Laguna Beach and Aliso Viejo. It was consuming open space but moving toward hillside communities and suburban subdivisions.
Costa Mesa High School's prom at Soka University was postponed a week due to the fire, school officials said.
An evacuation center was set up at the Susi Q Center, 380 3rd St. in Laguna Beach. A Red Cross shelter was also opened at Aliso Niguel High School, 28000 Wolverine Way in Aliso Viejo.
There were no reports of damaged structures, and only one report of a minor injury to a firefighter’s leg.