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Keeping down the flames

Suzie Harrison

Mention Oct. 27, 1993 and the four days following to any Laguna Beach

local and they’ll tell of the horror of the 1993 fires.

The hillsides were scorched as the inferno made its way through

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people’s homes, diminishing them to smoldering lots and rubble.

Throughout the city, Laguna Beach residents were evacuated.

Though there were no fatalities, there was much loss, including 366

homes.

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After that tragedy, the community came together to improve the city’s

fire prevention, bringing into existence what is now called the Laguna

Coast Fire Safety Council.

As part of the safety council’s program, they have implemented an

aggressive approach to combating fire hazards, forming the red flag

patrol to help watch for and help prevent fires. And as fire season gets

firmly underway, council members are looking for anyone interested to

help the Laguna community be fire-free.

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As part of the patrol, there will be specified routes through the

city’s wilderness, which will give the volunteers the access to monitor

fires and suspicious activity. The patrol will operate in coordination

with Orange County’s Red Flag program, which issues four levels of fire

alert.

Pat Cooper, chairman of the Red Flag patrol, said the need for

volunteers is great.

“This is a program that will be manned and staffed by citizen

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volunteers in conjunction with the Laguna Beach and Orange County

authorities,” Cooper said.

The volunteers will go through a training program for safety but will

not have to commit to a lot of time.

“The volunteers will only be called on when there is a red flag

alert,” Cooper said.

The Laguna Coast Fire Safety Council was born out of the 1993 fires so

people could meet with others who had endured the loss of their house,

possessions, memories and sense of stability and self.

David Horne, a Laguna resident who lost his home, helped organize

the council in his neighborhood after the fires.

“There are and were a lot of elderly people in the Mystic Hills area,”

he said. “We began meetings to focus on rebuilding, not recrimination,

not retribution but to get our lives back.”

Through the exchange, they asked questions, sought answers and

reviewed resources in an effort to make the community less prone to

raging fires.

The council first was called the Laguna Free Choice Insurance

Discussion.

“We named it that because we wanted to feel like we had a choice and

we wanted to discuss it,” Horne said. “Sharing information gave

homeowners a good feeling that they were not left out on their own.”

Horne, a marketing professor at Cal State Fullerton, dove right into

the stream of answers by establishing lines of communications with big

insurance carriers.

Horne admits that he had no previous experience with insurance

matters on that level, explaining that his instinct to help Laguna Beach

thwart another disaster somehow led him through a series of steps that

grew into a whole process, plan and implementation that no other city

had done.

Essentially Laguna Beach residents -- through their enthusiasm to help

each other -- built a foundation and solid plan to revitalize the

community following the fires.

Among their tactics, they would invite key executives at each

insurance firm to a council meetings to discuss what measures they had

been taking as a community.

Horne explained to the skeptical corporations that they had no

intention of discussing individual policies or any sort of insurance

matters on a personal level. Rather all they wanted to do was to present

the companies with their work and what they had been doing, including

telling them the steps they had been taking since the fire in October and

explaining the measures they were executing to make the community safer.

“The companies were shocked,” Horne explained. “They had never heard

of such a thing by a city.”

The concept grew and fostered scheduled meetings with the insurance

commission on the state level. Mailings also got more people involved.

Added to the group was a city council representative, other

homeowner associations in Laguna, the fire department, the water

department and people at the department of forestry, which gave birth to

Laguna Beach’s first fire safety council.

The newly formed council had their first meeting on the anniversary of

the fires.

“We had pretty good attendance,” Horne said.

The council will have applications and information at the Farmer’s

Market downtown on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

FYI

For information on the Laguna Coast Fire Safety Council, check online

at o7 www.lagunacoastfiresafecouncil.orgf7 . For more information, call

494-6620.


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