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Aftermath of the Laguna fire

Mary A. Castillo

Anyone who lived in Laguna nine years ago has a nose trained to

smell smoke.

Sunday will mark the ninth anniversary of when Santa Ana winds


drove an arson fire that started at 11:50 a.m. along Laguna Canyon

Road. Within 30 hours that fire damaged or destroyed 441 homes,

including David Horne’s.

“I lost everything I owned,” he said of his former home, which


once stood on Bounty Way. “I was one of many who lost virtually


But like the rest of the community, Horne didn’t lose the

willingness to do something that would ensure a fire would never

devastate the community like it had that October.

This summer the Laguna Fire Safe Council rolled out a training

program for volunteers of the Red Flag Patrol. Now 65 members strong,

the group schedules two-person teams to patrol areas vulnerable to


wild land fires.

Although the fire season isn’t over yet, the patrols haven’t been

called into action.

“It’s like having insurance but you never want to test it,” he

said. “Now we’re ready.”

Horne feels that the Red Flag Patrol is only one of the many steps

the community has taken toward greater fire preparedness.

After firefighters were frustrated by dry fire hydrants during the


1993 fire, the water district built two additional reservoirs: the

Richard Jarhaus/Top of the World 300-million-gallon reservoir and the

Louis Zitnick 5-million-gallon reservoir.

In 2000, the county activated the 800-mhz radio network that links

all emergency agencies on one radio frequency, enabling them to

communicate directly with one another.

Last, but certainly not least, let’s not forget the herds of goats

that the city annually employs to chow down on potentially hazardous


However, according to firefighters and a new group that has grown

out of the Laguna Beach Resource Center, there are some weak spots

where residents are not as ready as they should be.

“People need to be aware if we can find them,” Engineer Dennis

Marsh said. “They need to have their address in the front and


He also mentioned that dense vegetation prevents fire crews from

safely attacking all sides of a burning residence. Overgrown trees

and shrubbery handily aid a fire to jump from one house to another.

As for the new group from the resource center, its mission is not

only to declare Sept. 11 Disaster Preparedness Day, but also to

prepare one in three families in Laguna Beach ready to withstand any

kind of disaster for three days.

“It’s not if it will happen,” said Jason Paransky, spokesman for

the group. “It’s when it’s going to happen.”

The group has met with community leaders and educators with plans

to hold a community-wide event at Main Beach next year.

When Horne looks at the young people among the Red Flag

volunteers, he sees a legacy of awareness.

“The change has been permanent,” he said. “I don’t see our

perspective changing.”

* MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot.

She covers education, public safety and City Hall. She can be reached