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Close call for Huntington Beach residents after 62-acre fire in Bolsa Chica wetlands extinguished

A small brush fire burns in the Bolsa Chica wetlands area of Huntington Beach.
Orange County firefighters battle flames in the Bolsa Chica wetlands of Huntington Beach where it burned 62 acres on Sunday.
(Courtesy of Ed Smith)

A brush fire that grew to more than 62 acres burned the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach on Sunday.

The fire was contained by 7 p.m. Sunday, Huntington Beach Fire Department spokesman Eric Blaska said, and no injuries or structural damage were reported. Some residents in the nearby Brightwater neighborhood voluntarily evacuated.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Blaska said.

Blaska said the dispatch reporting the fire just south of Warner Avenue and east of Pacific Coast Highway came in at 4:02 p.m. Sunday, and units were on the scene within five minutes.

The Huntington Beach Fire Department got assistance from the Orange County Fire Authority, with a hand crew and two water-dropping helicopters, as well as the Fountain Valley Fire Department.

“Firefighters were able to make a stop approximately 100 yards from the houses,” Blaska said. “They were able to make a great stop right there. With the typical onshore winds that we have in the afternoon, that was going to present a big challenge for us ... When you get fire in that kind of condition sitting near homes, usually it’s not a good outcome, but we were able to prevent that.”

Huntington Beach resident Erin Meyer, who lives nearby in the Huntington Harbour community, said her son, Chris, texted her about the fire just after 4 p.m. as he went via skateboard on a trip to a local convenience store.

Meyer went to the scene and began taking pictures of the firefighting effort from the north side of Warner Avenue, inland from Pacific Coast Highway.

“Once the choppers started coming in, you could see an immediate difference,” Meyer said. “I could see two choppers through my lens, Orange County Fire Authority 1 and Orange County Fire Authority 2 ... and they were just one right after the other. I mean, I lost count in the 20s of how many dumps there were. They were just really quick.”

A fire in the northern Bolsa Chica wetlands burned 62 acres and came close to homes on the hillside on Sunday.
A fire in the northern Bolsa Chica wetlands burned 62 acres and came close to homes on the hillside on Sunday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, known for its rare seabirds, is a key element of the wetlands. Blaska said the Bolsa Chica Conservancy Interpretive Center was not damaged, and the Bolsa Chica Land Trust said in a release that its Growing Space plant nursery was spared from the flames due to having defensible space around it.

Meyer said she went back to the wetlands Monday to assess the damage.

“A lot of people were worried because they have really popular owls back there,” Meyer said. “The eucalyptus trees where the owls live, the palm trees where the herons nest and all of these big, dead trees where all of the raptors, the hawks, the osprey and the falcons sit ... they’re untouched back there. I saw a mom [owl] and one baby sitting back there, and they’re untouched.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta, who celebrated her 60th birthday Sunday, took to Facebook to thank the firefighters for their efforts.

“Throughout all of it our community came together out of concern for the wildlife, the homes, the firefighters and the Bolsa Chica Conservancy,” Semeta wrote Monday. “So it was a great birthday, unusual yes, but a happy one for sure.”

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