‘We no longer have a fire season, we have a fire year,’ says Fire Chief of the Orange County Fire Authority
The fire was reported shortly after 4am in the Emerald Bay neighbourhood, the Orange County Fire Authority reported.
The City of Laguna Beach ordered immediate evacuations for Irvine Cove and the gated community of Emerald Bay, and placed an evacuation warning on North Laguna.
Schools in Laguna Beach, around 50 miles south of Los Angeles, were closed for the day due to the blaze which has been named the Emerald Fire.
“Homes are currently threatened with the possibility of more structures threatened if the fire spreads,” the city said in a statement, noting that evacuees should head south on the coastal highway.
Brian Fennessy, Fire Chief of the Orange County Fire Authority, spoke at a media briefing shortly after 7am local time. He said that there had been a “robust response” to the blaze which was burning across 7-10 acres.
Multiple agencies had taken up the call for support and were now working to hold the fire on the ridge line above the city, as flames spread to the west and north.
Three helicopters were part of the fire response, with at least two Hellfire water tankers en route to the scene.
The flames are being fanned by the Santa Ana winds, dry, powerful gusts which affect southern California in fall and winter months.
The National Weather Service reported on Wednesday that strong offshore winds were driving well above normal temperatures in the state.
Chief Fennessy referenced impacts that the changing climate is having on crews’ ability to tackle blazes.
“This is exactly what the fire service in state of California has been talking about in the past couple of years,” he said.
“We no longer have a fire season, we have a fire year. It’s February 10. It’s supposed to be the middle of the winter.
“We are anticipating 80-90 degree weather, we’re under a strong high pressure, under Santa Ana [winds]. Even though the hillsides are green, it doesn’t take much but low humidity and wind for fires to occur.”
He went on to ask residents to take care of defensible space around their homes, and heed evacuation orders.
A national high temperature of 91 degrees Fahrenheit was reported on 9th February in Santa Ana, 20 miles north of Laguna Beach.
California has always had wildfires but the state is now experiencing bigger, more intense and unpredictable blazes due to the climate crisis.
Since 1970, the acreage of land burned has increased fivefold amid increases in temperature and longer and more extreme droughts. Rainfall has also become less frequent in fall and spring, while winter storms have become more volatile.