Mary A. Castillo
Anyone who lived in Laguna nine years ago has a nose trained to
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
* MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot.
She covers education, public safety and City Hall. She can be reached