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Wind-driven Southern California wildfire destroys homes, burns 195 acres

No injuries have been reported. An estimated 20 or more homes may have burned and mandatory evacuations were issued for parts of Laguna Niguel.

Around 20 homes in Southern California are feared burned in a wind-driven wildfire that raced up slopes near coast Wednesday, officials said.

A vegetation fire that would become the Coastal Fire in the Laguna Niguel region was reported around 2:44 p.m. and was driven by strong winds toward homes, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said.

The fire had burned 195 acres as of late Wednesday night, the agency said.

There had been no reports of any injuries, but officials estimated 20 or more homes could have been destroyed, Fennessy said at a Wednesday evening press conference.

A firefighter works to put out a structure burning during a wildfire Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Laguna Niguel, California.
A firefighter works to put out a structure burning during a wildfire Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Laguna Niguel, California.Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

Further damage assessments would be conducted to determine how many homes were lost, Fennessy said. He described the terrain as “extremely steep.”

Fennessy described the strong winds off the coast and up slopes as normal, but said that extremely dry vegetation means that fires are catching quickly and spreading quickly.

“The fuel moisture is so low that those fires are taking off and running on us,” Fennessy said.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered and remained in place for parts of Laguna Niguel, a city of around 64,000 southeast of Irvine in the southern end of Orange County. Residents in nearby Laguna Beach were asked to remain vigilant.

As firefighters worked to save homes, some people said they were surprised by the fire’s spread.  

Carson Williams told NBC Los Angeles he has friends on one of the streets affected. The friends evacuated and he was hoping for the best.

“I’m just praying — their house is a little further down the street — I just hope that it stays intact,” he told the station.

Fennessy said Wednesday evening that winds had died down and he expected fire crews to make good progress throughout the night.

All of California is under some kind of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. So far this year, California has had the driest January, February, and March ever recorded, state officials have said.

In April, Southern California’s gigantic water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, took the unprecedented step of requiring about 6 million people to cut their outdoor watering to one day a week.

The cause of the Coastal Fire is under investigation. Fennessy said that with climate change, fuel beds in Southern California and throughout West are so so dry that they are exacerbating wildfire risk and severity.

“Five years ago, 10 years ago, a fire like this would have likely been stopped very small,” he said.