California Wildfires

Wind-Fanned Brush Fire Above the Orange County Coast Forces Evacuations

An early morning brush fire burned on a hillside above homes in the Emerald Bay area.

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A brush fire pushed by strong winds forced evacuations, closed schools and burned about 150 acres Thursday in coastal Orange County communities.

The fire was reported around 4 a.m. on a hillside above Emerald Bay.

As of 3 p.m., evacuation orders for the communities of north Laguna Beach, Emerald Bay North and South and Irvine Cove were lifted. But county and state parks in the fire-affected areas remain closed.

Flames and smoke could be seen at dawn from Long Beach and other parts of Southern California with an eerie orange glow over the coast when the fire began Thursday before dawn.

Containment was at 20 percent early Friday.

No homes were damaged, thanks to firefighters on the ground and a barrage of overnight runs from water-dropping aircraft.

"We met it with a very robust response," said Orange Count Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy.

Emerald Bay is an unincorporated area of Orange County. The fire was pushed north by wind along the northern edge of a residential area. 

"We got lucky in that regard," Fennessy said.

"The bulk of the fire is away from the structures."

A map shows evacuations due to a brush fire Feb. 10, 2022 in the Laguna Beach area.

Spot fires were reported due to wind-strewn embers landing in dry brush.

Fennessy said at one point there was a fire engine in front of almost every home in the Emerald Bay area.

The last time the area burned was in 1993, when hundreds of homes burned. At the time it was one of the most damaging fires on record in California. Fifteen of the state's 20 most-damaging fires have burned within the last seven years. 

After viewing the area, Fennessy complimented residents on the defensible space he saw throughout the neighborhood. Creating defensible space involves removing brush, branches or anything else that might allow flames to spread from brush to a house. The defensible space gives firefighters room to defend property from wildfires

"They've got great defensible space," Fennessy said. "They've done what we asked them to do."

Smoke rises from the burned out ruins of homes along Skyline Boulevard in Laguna Beach in October 1993 after the wildfire hit the area. (Photo credit should read VINCE BUCCI/AFP via Getty Images)

Details about how Thursday's fire started were not immediately available.

All classes in the Laguna Beach Unified School District were canceled.

Strong Santa Ana winds, notorious for fanning brush fire flames, fanned SoCal on Thursday. A high wind warning was issued for parts of Southern California, including coastal Orange County.

Above-normal temperatures are in the forecast through Super Bowl weekend.

A U.S. Drought Monitor map for Thursday Feb. 10, 2022.

The winter heat follows a dry January, which countered the benefits from days of drenching storms in December. Most of Southern California, including all of Orange County, remains in moderate drought -- an improvement from conditions at the start of the water year in October when the region was in severe and exceptional drought.

"We're in for a good couple days of tough weather," Fennessy said. "We see green on the hillsides, and it lulls us in to a sense of complacency."

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