Blazes like Emerald Fire on Laguna Beach will occur year-round in California, warns fire chief

As the authorities get the flames under control and evacuation orders in Orange County are lifted, we should expect more dangerous infernos, say experts

Jade Bremner
Friday 11 February 2022 12:26 GMT
Huge brush fire ignites in Laguna Beach amid strong Santa Ana winds

As the evacuation orders for the Emerald Fire, near Laguna Beach, lift and the blaze is brought under control, the authorities are reflecting on the frequency of fires in California.

“We no longer have a fire season – we have a fire year,” said Orange County fire authority Chief Brian Fennessy.

There have been 193 fires this year alone in the state, spanning 723 acres, according to CalFire and the US Forest Service. In 2021 there were a total of 8,786 fires spanning 2.5 million acres.

“It’s February 10. It’s supposed to be the middle of winter. We’re anticipating 80 to 90°F (26.6-32.2°C) weather. Even though the hillsides are green, it doesn’t take but low humidity and wind to cause fires to occur,” said Chief Fennessy.

“If this is any sign of what’s to come throughout the rest of the winter and spring, we’re in for a long year.”

Firefighters now have the Laguna fire 20 per cent contained, but fuelled by Santa Ana winds, high temperatures and low humidity it forced residents to flee their homes in Irvine Cove, Emerald Bay and North Laguna.

More than 1,870 structures were under evacuation orders until 3pm on Thursday. The towering and menacing flames were easily visible from around the area, including from Newport Beach at sunrise, they burned 145 acres of land.

Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf said on Thursday afternoon that the situation was under control. “We feel that we’re in pretty good shape,” she told FOX Weather.

It’s still not known what started the fire, but the authorities are investigating.

Orange County Fire Authority, Newport Beach Fire Department, Fullerton Fire Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Orange City Fire Department, Caltrans, plus inmate fire crews managed by CalFire helped get the blaze under control. Dozens of fire engines, multiple helicopters plus a couple of bulldozers are being used to tackle the fire.

Scientists have said that an increase in the frequency of fires on the West Coast can be directly attributed to climate change.

“Climate change plays an undeniable role in the unprecedented wildfires of recent years. More than half of the acres burned each year in the western United States can be attributed to climate change,” wrote Katharine Mach, an associate professor at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Rebecca Miller, a PhD candidate in Environment and Resources, and Chris Field the director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, in Scientific American.

The scientists also offer bleak predictions for the future. They estimate that by 2050 forests in Northern California, Oregon and Washington could see a 78 per cent increase in areas burned, if we don’t aggressively reduce greenhouse gasses.

The Emerald Fire has invoked memories of a 1993 fire among local residents – this historic blaze tore through the Laguna Beach community. Three decades ago, flames reached as high as 100 feet in the air and winds topped 92 mph.

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