Laguna Beach Fire Live Updates: Fire Chief Says It Is 'Fire Year,' Not Season

Live Updates
  • A brush fire broke out in the Emerald Bay area of Laguna Beach, California early Thursday morning. At last report late Thursday morning, the fire burned 145 acres and was 5% contained.
  • Santa Ana winds are fueling the fire amid dry and unusually warm conditions.
  • Laguna Beach Police have issued an immediate evacuation order for Irvine Cove and Emerald Bay.
  • An evacuation warning is currently in place for the entire North Laguna Beach area.
  • The Pacific Coast Highway was closed in both directions Thursday morning and classes in the Laguna Beach Unified School District were canceled.
Emerald Fire
A plane drops retardant on a wildfire near homes in Laguna Beach Feb. 10. Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP Photo

Fire chief says it is "fire year," not season

During a press briefing Thursday, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy told reporters that the fires burned over 145 acres erupted in warm, dry conditions not typical for the middle of winter. He said the fire was the only one burning in the state, making more resources available.

"We used to talk about fire seasons, we now call them fire years," Fennessy said.

Smoke plume seen from space

Crews continue fighting the Emerald Fire in Laguna Beach Thursday afternoon as hundreds of residents remain evacuated. At last report, the fire burned 145 acres and is 5% contained.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's GOES-17 satellite captured the plume of smoke from space as it drifted offshore.

Crews made progress containing the fire throughout the day as winds died down.

"We've had a lot of wind here in Southern California," Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf told FOX Weather.

"So, if we get some strong wind gusts in the afternoon and we have some embers still that haven't been addressed, then we may have an issue. But for now, we feel like we're in pretty decent shape."

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said an arson unit was on scene Thursday morning. However, the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Various agencies are working the fire as it's burning in an unincorporated area of Orange County.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office North Patrol units are among the responding agencies. The crew posted a video as they drove to Laguna Beach Thursday morning showing flames and smoke along the hillside.

Photos from the Emerald Fire

Fire crews battled flames and smoke after the Emerald Fire swept through Laguna Beach.

Crews utilized fire engines, helicopters and bulldozers to contain the fire.

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Fire danger causes Gun Grove Park closure

Gun Grove Park will be closed until further notice starting Thursday, with Seal Beach officials citing an increased fire danger amid high winds and soaring temperatures as the reason why.

The closure is to help mitigate any risk of a fire breaking out in the park, the Seal Beach Police Department said.

This week, the National Weather Service issued a heat and wind advisory for Orange County.

Winds ranging from 15 to 25 miles per hour with gusts up to 45 miles per hour were expected through 4 p.m. Thursday.

According to the weather service, temperatures in Orange County are expected to be as high as 89 degrees Fahrenheit through Sunday.

Homes threatened as flames moved in

Strong winds fanned the Emerald Fire as it sparked around 4 a.m. Thursday morning near the Emerald Bay community.

When it sparked, flames moved dangerously close to homes in exclusive neighborhoods. One Emerald Bay homeowner shared a photo showing flames on the hillside right outside of his living room.

KCBS reporter Michele Gile tweeted the photo, saying it was taken around 4:30 a.m.

Wind pushed a plume of smoke above mansions lining the hillside early Thursday.

Flames also burned through the hillside near another structure around 4 a.m.

The strong winds died down as the morning progressed, helping crews make progress on containment. No homes or structures had been damaged as of early Thursday afternoon.

Monitoring fire activity:

One tool the Orange County Fire Authority uses to monitor current fire activity is called "FIRIS" or the Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System.

"FIRIS combines a dedicated fixed-wing aircraft equipped with sensors capable of providing enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, a supercomputer-based fire prediction system and situational awareness software into one platform to support commanders and decision makers for initial response," OCFA writes.

Here's the most recent FIRIS video:

How the Emerald Fire differs from the 1993 blaze

Before the Emerald Fire, Laguna Beach was last hit by a "devastating" fire nearly three decades ago.

The 1993 fire started in Laguna Canyon and spread, due to high winds, to Laguna Beach and Emerald Bay. It was one of the most damaging fires on record in California.

But Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said he is optimistic about the current situation.

For one, the Emerald Fire is not rapidly spreading and no structures have been damaged.

Fennessey said the 1993 fire had time to "get steam" as it move towards homes on the coast, leading to more devastation.

Over 440 homes were destroyed and caused an estimated $528 million in damage after the flames engulfed over 14,000 acres of brushland, according to The Orange County Register.

Additionally, the county fire department did not have the same amount of resources or coordination with other agencies 30 years ago as it does now.

Fennessy said his crews are now able to utilize more mutual aid, including air resources, from neighboring fire departments.

"More resources are a phone call away," he said.

Fennessy also noted that Laguna Beach is fortunate because the Emerald Fire is the only wildfire currently burning in the state. That was not the case at the time of the 1993 fire.

Therefore, state and local resources can be better concentrated and more quickly deployed to contain this fire.

Pacific Coast Highway reopens

The Pacific Coast Highway between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach reopened in both directions late Thursday morning after being shutdown due to the Emerald Fire.

The Orange County Fire Authority tweeted the update around 11:15 a.m., with a photo showing smoke over the hillside and above the ocean.

Centers open for evacuated residents

Two evacuation centers have opened in Orange County for residents impacted by the Emerald Fire.

The Laguna Beach Community and Susi Q Center in Laguna Beach and Los Olivos Community Center in Irvine are both now open.

The American Red Cross Southern California Region reminded residents to be ready to evacuate, have an emergency kit ready and heed evacuation orders when given.

Evacuation orders remain, no structures damaged

Evacuation orders remain in place across parts of Laguna Beach as crews work to contain the Emerald Fire.

Laguna Beach Fire Chief Mike Garcia said it appears all residents of Emerald Bay and Irvine Cove, likely "several hundred," have evacuated.

Fire officials thanked residents for heeding orders as it allowed crews to focus on the firefight. As of 10:15 a.m., officials say no communities are immediately adjacent to where the fire is now spreading.

No structures have been damaged and no injuries reported. It's unclear when residents will be allowed to return home.

A lull in winds is aiding the firefight as of late Thursday morning, but strong Santa Ana winds have been pushing through the area. Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said the same weather conditions are expected over the next two to three days.

Mandatory & Voluntary Evacuation Orders

The following remain in place as of 10:45 a.m. Thursday, provided by the Orange County Sheriff's Department:

Evacuation Orders (Mandatory)

  • Emerald Bay north of Pacific Coast Highway
  • Irvine Cove area of Laguna Beach
  • North Coast area of Laguna Beach

Evacuation Warning (Voluntary)

  • Boat Canyon area of Laguna Beach

Road Closures

  • SR-1 (Coast Highway) is closed between Broadway in Laguna Beach and Newport Coast Drive in Newport Beach

"We're in pretty good shape," fire chief says

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy told reporters the fires are 5% contained and remains at 145 acres.

Chief Fennessy also says the fires have very little growth and are not spreading rapidly due to the temperatures subsiding and the humidity remaining low.

"We're in pretty good shape," Fennessy said.

Laguna Beach schools closed

All schools within the Laguna Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) are closed Thursday as crews battle the Emerald Fire.

"Please note at this time we are closing all schools due to the active fire situation in Emerald Bay," LBUSD tweeted Thursday morning.

The closures impact El Morro Elementary, Top of the World Elementary, Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School. There are about 2,800 students within the district.

"The safety of our students is the number one priority in LBUSD, and we will provide updates as we gain further information," a message on the district's website reads. "Please stay safe."

Fire reaches 145 acres

Fire officials are now reporting that the Emerald Fire is now at 145 acres.

There are 75 response units activated to battle the flames and still no homes damaged, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

Mandatory evacuation orders remain in place.

How to watch news briefing

The Orange County Fire Authority will provide an update at 9:30 a.m. on the massive fires.

Here's how to watch:

Fire Chief warns of year-round fire season

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy warns South California should expect a year-round fire season.

During a press conference on the Emerald Fire, Fennessy said the areas no longer has just a fire season.

"We have a fire year," he said.

Fennessy said the Emerald Fire came in what's supposed to be the middle of winter when conditions should be rainy. Instead, the area is currently experiencing record-high temperatures and dry winds.

Orange and Los Angeles Counties have been under a heat advisory this week, as temperatures reached into the 80s and 90s.

Wind advisories were also issued due to the Santa Ana winds bringing hot, dry, windy conditions to the area.

Fire Chief is "confident" fire is under control

Orange County Fire Authority Brian Fennessy is confident fire officials can handle the Emerald fire.

During a press conference Thursday, Fennessy said he was "confident that we've got a pretty good handle on this fire" as long as "the weather cooperates, and the resources come."

Fennessy added that the fire is "looking pretty good" in terms of the spread. While the flames spread has slowed, the strong winds will continue. He said the fire is moving north towards the Newport Beach area.

The bulk of the fire is away from structures and burned alongside or adjacent to homes, Fennessy said. There are about 25 fire engines, eight strike teams and water-dropping helicopters on the scene to control the flames. Two tankers will be brought in for a fire retardant drop.

Evacuations ordered, part of PCH closed

A wind-driven brush fire in Laguna Beach, California has prompted evacuations and forced part of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to shut down Thursday morning.

The fire was reported just after 4 a.m. Thursday morning in Emerald Bay. The fire has burned between seven and ten acres as of 7:20 a.m. Thursday morning. No homes have been damaged.

Crews are battling the blaze amid strong winds and unusually high temperatures.

Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for Irvine Cove, North and South Emerald Bay, Crystal Cove State Park and El Morro Elementary School.

An evacuation warning has been issued for all of North Laguna, for residents North of Broadway.

The City of Laguna Beach urges evacuees to head South down PCH to evacuate the area.

PCH is closed between Ledroit Street and El Morro Bay, KCBS reports.

Click below to see the latest evacuation orders, from the City of Laguna Beach:

Laguna Beach fire evacuations
Orange County Sheriff’s Department