Based on the data and facts collected during the investigation of the February 10, 2022, Laguna Beach Emerald Fire, the Orange County Fire Authority
(OCFA) fire investigators have determined the cause of the fire was overhead power lines.
According to OCFA, the Emerald Fire’s most probable heat source was sparks from electrical arcing. High wind conditions and an unspecified electrical event among the three high voltage power lines caused sparks to be blown into a receptive fuel bed of vegetation, sparking the February 10, 2022, Laguna Beach Emerald Fire, which burned 154 acres near the Emerald Bay neighborhood and forced the evacuation of thousands of people from their homes.
In light of the fire’s cause, Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen are calling on Southern California Edison to prevent another devastating fire from happening and underground its utilities now in Laguna Beach and along Laguna Canyon Road.
“Our number one priority is to protect the life and safety of our community from wildfire,” said Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf. “We will not stop pushing Southern California Edison to do the right thing and underground their utilities. If you look at the long-term costs of wildfire damage, it is millions and millions of dollars that utilities are incurring in some of these fires, these utilities are better off proactively undergrounding their wires now and eliminating the risk to life and property.”
“Through the Public Utilities Commission and the California Legislature, we’ve been pushing for mandates that require the utilities to underground utilities in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones, which includes most of the City of Laguna Beach,” said Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen. “This news that above ground power lines have caused another California wildfire in our own backyard is a wake-up call for all of us that the utilities need to underground now – no matter the cost. You can’t put a dollar amount on any life lost to wildfire.”
Approximately 85% of the City of Laguna Beach and its surrounding 16,000 acres of open space are designated by CalFire as a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone. This designation underscores the significant risk in the City and recognizes the loss of 441 structures due to wildfire in 1993. The City also experienced wildfires in 2015 and 2018 which started in the open space. The only two roads in and out of the community – Pacific Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road – are both located in the wildfire hazard zone, threatening evacuation routes and access for emergency responders in a wildfire event.
The City continues to take numerous fire mitigation steps including the implementation of the Wildfire Mitigation and Safety Plan, which includes additional programs, mitigation measures, staffing and equipment needed to reduce the current level of high fire risk and exposure to wildfires in Laguna Beach and action items needed to further protect the City in the event of a wildfire.
Even so, the risk created by the natural environment is compounded by certain physical constraints and limitations in the City including limited evacuation routes, overhead utilities, impaired access areas, older buildings and the impact of visitors complicating an evacuation.
“Our top priority is to assess all of the fire mitigation programs in place and continue their progress,” said Laguna Beach Fire Chief Niko King. “Our department is ready to respond and carry out the mission of protecting lives, property and the environment.”
The City of Laguna Beach is encouraging residents to be better prepared for a wildfire by creating a defensible space and creating a defensible home. You can do this by using fire-safe construction materials and looking for points of entry where embers could intrude into the home or attic during a fire. Home and property safety preparation should also include creating defensible space around your home by clearing vegetation at least 30 to 100 feet away from your home and using fire resistant landscaping to help stop the spread of wildfire. Residents should also remove all dead or dying vegetation from their yard, roof, and rain gutters.
The Fire Department offers a Free Wildfire Consultation service for all property owners within the City. Please contact us online to schedule the site visit or by calling 949-497-0700.