Updated: May 12, 2022 | 12:00pm PT
A pattern of early-season fires in the western U.S.
- The ongoing occurrence of early-season fires that began with substantial property loss in Colorado, Texas and New Mexico continues with a destructive blaze in Southern California.
- The Coastal Fire began on Wednesday afternoon and is reported to have destroyed at least 20 homes in the Orange County community of Laguna Niguel.
- As of 9:00 am PDT, the fire is approximately 200 acres with 0% containment. The total Reconstruction Cost Value (RCV) of property currently in harm’s way stands at $530 million (Figure 1 below).
- As with many of the fires so far this year, strong winds are playing a role in moving this fire quickly and generating embers that, in many cases, can enter homes through vents in the attics and ignite the structures from within.
Even more homes are at risk, but a change in wind speed could reduce that risk.
- The wildfire hazard in the Laguna Niguel area is substantial, with the CoreLogic risk assessment identifying this part of the community as high and extreme risk (Figure 2 below). This is due to the heavy growth of chaparral and scrub brush accumulated in the canyons over the years. The fire advanced from the bottom of the canyon to the west, consuming heavy fuels. Steep terrain leading up to the residential communities accelerated the upslope spread.
- There have been no historic fires in recent history that have occurred in the area that is currently burning, which means there is a long-running accumulation of fuels exacerbated by the persistent extreme drought conditions in the area. Similar fuels and terrain were responsible for the Laguna Fire, which occurred in 1993 approximately 2 miles to the northwest and burned 14,587 acres and destroyed 366 homes. But earlier this year, maybe as a harbinger of things to come, the Emerald Fire in early February burned 154 acres about 4 miles to the northwest of the Coastal Fire, through similar fuels and terrain.
- So far, 2022 shows signs of a very active wildfire season across the western U.S. and requires all homeowners to be vigilant and aware of the threat.
Damage assessment is underway.
- Crews have just started performing damage assessments, but it appears as if at least 20 homes have burned. Most of those burnt lie at the immediate edge of the ridgeline but embers were able to penetrate nearly a quarter mile into the neighborhood and ignite at lease six more structures.
- Although the cause of the fire is under investigation, Southern California Edison issued a statement to the California Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday night that “our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire. Our investigation is ongoing.”