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Coastal Fire cause under investigation in Laguna Niguel | Maps, evacuations

The Coastal Fire’s cause is under investigation.

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. — Click here for Saturday's story on the Coastal Fire.

The Coastal Fire near Laguna Beach and Laguna Niguel has burned homes in Orange County. 

A wildfire that erupted Wednesday, May 11, in coastal Southern California raced through coastal bluffs of multimillion-dollar mansions, burning at least 20 homes, fire officials said.

On Thursday, the county declared a local emergency in response to the Coastal Fire.

Even small fires that once would have been easily contained are extreme threats to life and property because of climate change, said Brian Fennessy, chief of the Orange County Fire Authority.

The perfect example broke out Wednesday afternoon when flames that may have been sparked by electric utility equipment were pushed up a canyon by strong sea breezes and quickly ignited large homes. They burned a relatively small area — about 200 acres — but left a large path of destruction.

A sprawling estate selling for $9.9 million had looked in real estate listings like a California dream: teeming with luxuries that included a two-level library, a “wellness wing” with sauna and steam room and a pool on a terrace overlooking scenic Laguna Beach.

By nightfall, the mansion once photographed against a pastel sunset had morphed into a nightmare: its arched façade silhouetted against a glowing yellow sky as firefighters trained their hoses on the engulfed structure.

Credit: AP
Firefighters work to put out a structure burning during a wildfire Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Laguna Niguel, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio J. Sanchez)

After the big flames died down Thursday, the house was one of many smoking casualties marked off with yellow tape. In another driveway, a burned-out car rested on its rims. The steep surrounding hillsides were blackened and stripped of vegetation.

Credit: AP
A car smolders in front of a destroyed home during a wildfire Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Laguna Niguel, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio J. Sanchez)

Two firefighters were hospitalized but no other injuries were reported.

The fire’s cause was under investigation and damage inspections were still ongoing on Thursday, Orange County Fire Authority Assistant Chief T.J. McGovern said. Southern California Edison reported that unspecified electrical “circuit activity” occurred around the time the fire broke out late Wednesday afternoon.

Electric utility equipment has repeatedly been linked to starting some of the most disastrous California wildfires, especially during windy weather.

The state Public Utilities Commission last year approved a settlement of more than half a billion dollars in fines and penalties for SoCal Edison for its role in five wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

KEY FIGURES:

These figures were updated on Thursday night. Find the latest figures from Orange County Fire Authority.

  • 200 acres
  • 15% containment 
  • 20 homes destroyed 
  • 11 homes damaged 
  • 550 firefighters on scene 
  • 2 firefighters were injured and have been released from the hospital

GET THE LATEST UPDATES:

  • Orange County Sheriff's Office HERE
  • Orange County Fire Authority HERE

ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW:

EVACUATIONS:

The Orange County Sheriff's Office says:

  • Mandatory Evacuations: Evacuation orders have been issued for north of the intersection of Flying Cloud Drive and Pacific Island Drive to the intersection of Highlands Avenue and Pacific Island Drive.
  • Voluntary Evacuation: Warnings have been issued for the area south of Flying Cloud Drive and Pacific Island Drive to the intersection of Pacific Island Drive and Crown Valley Parkway.

An evacuation warning has been lifted for the Balboa Nyes (Portafina) neighborhood in Laguna Beach. The sheriff's office said that residents who voluntarily evacuated can return to their homes but should remain alert.

Residents are asked to call the Orange County Emergency Operations Center at (714) 628-7085 for updates.

An evacuation center is set up at the Crown Valley Community Center at 29751 Crown Valley Parkway.

Map of the evacuation zones from the Orange County Sheriff's Office:

FIRE MAP:

A map shows the latest fire activity:

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VIEW FROM ABOVE:  KABC's SkyMap7 shows the fire's destruction Wednesday evening:

WILDFIRE PREPS

According to Cal Fire, the 2021 fire season started earlier than previous years, but also ended earlier, as well. January 2021 saw just under 1,200 acres burned from nearly 300 wildfires. Fires picked up in the summer when the Dixie Fire burned in five Northern California counties — Butte, Plumas, Shasta, Lassen and Tehama. The Dixie Fire started on July 13 and wasn't contained until Oct. 25, burning nearly 1 million acres. It became the second-largest wildfire in state history and the largest non-complex fire.

Overall, 2.5 million acres burned in 2021 from 8,835 wildfires. Over 3,600 structures were destroyed and 3 people were killed. 

RELATED: EXPLAINER | Why is home protection important in wildfires?

If you live in a wildfire-prone zone, Cal Fire suggests creating a defensible space around your home. Defensible space is an area around a building in which vegetation and other debris are completely cleared. At least 100 feet is recommended.

WATCH: What you need to know to prepare, stay safe for wildfires

The Department of Homeland Security suggests assembling an emergency kit that has important documents, N95 respirator masks, and supplies to grab with you if you’re forced to leave at a moment’s notice. The agency also suggests signing up for local warning system notifications and knowing your community’s evacuation plans best to prepare yourself and your family in cases of wildfires.

Some counties use Nixle alerts to update residents on severe weather, wildfires, and other news. To sign up, visit www.nixle.com or text your zip code to 888777 to start receiving alerts. 

RELATED: Are you wildfire ready? Here's what to do to prepare for fire season.

PG&E customers can also subscribe to alerts via text, email, or phone call. If you're a PG&E customer, visit the Profile & Alerts section of your account to register.

What questions do you have about the latest wildfires? If you're impacted by the wildfires, what would you like to know? Text the ABC10 team at (916) 321-3310.