Drought conditions have left vegetation extremely dry and primed for easy burning
Fire crews battled the blaze, named the Coastal Fire, through the night on Thursday as mandatory evacuations were in place.
Around 20 homes in Laguna Niguel, south of Laguna Beach, have been destroyed, according to the Orange County Fire Authority. By Thursday morning, the fire had spread to around 200 acres, about 150 times the size of an American Football field, and is 0 per cent contained.
The fire comes amid a devastating drought in California that has kept the landscape dry and devastated water reservoirs across the state, and a climate crisis that threatens to make conditions even worse.
“We’re seeing spread in ways we haven’t before,” said Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said at a news briefing on Wednesday night.
Five or 10 years ago, he adds, the fire department would likely have been able to contain this fire to around one or two acres. But with such dry vegetation, these fires are spreading much more easily.
Mandatory evacuation orders, as well as evacuation warnings, are in place for parts of Laguna Niguel. The fire is believed to have started in the Aliso Woods Canyon, a wilderness area next to the community.
There were no injuries as of Wendesday night, according to Chief Fennessy.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District has issued a smoke advisory through Thursday for much of southern Orange County.
The current drought has likely helped spur conditions more conducive to a fire. Currently, this part of Orange County is under “moderate drought” conditions, according the US government’s drought monitor.
The climate crisis is expected to further exacerbate drought conditions in California in the next few decades – with increased risk of large fires as the atmosphere fills up with warming greenhouse gases.
“What we saw today was not something you’re used to seeing this time of year, or even during these types of conditions,” Chief Fennessy said at the briefing.
While winds are about normal for this time year, the vegetation is just so dry that it doesn’t take much to spark a fire, he added.
“This has become our norm.”