Then & Now: 1993 Laguna Beach Fire Response

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Helicopters land on the beach in 1993. | Photo by Douglas Miller
Helicopters land on the beach in 1993. | Photo by Douglas Miller

Every fall, residents are reminded of the devastating 1993 firestorm that destroyed or severely damaged more than 400 homes, scorching thousands of acres and leaving a lasting memory of those fateful days.

Some may recall the eerie sight from the Oct. 27 incident—helicopters landing on Main Beach. The emergency response brought aircrafts to drop water and retardant, although other fires in the region delayed their arrival. The picture calls to mind something out of a war scene; it was, in fact, a battle against wind-driven flames—some reaching a height of 200 feet—that burned an average of 45 acres and four homes per minute at the peak, according to a report by Orange County’s fire services director at the time.

Emergency responders work to put out the canyon fire in July 2015. | Photo by Greg Farnes
Emergency responders work to put out the canyon fire in July 2015. | Photo by Greg Farnes

At one point, the upper part of Emerald Canyon burned at an estimated rate of 100 acres per minute in what quickly grew from a Laguna Canyon brush fire, believed to have been set by an arsonist. Authorities identified a suspect, who was never arrested due to lack of evidence, and the case remains open today.

Luckily, no one was killed in the blaze that required widespread evacuation, but it’s still considered one of the top 15 fire disasters in U.S. history by the National Fire Protection Association (based on the $528 million loss, adjusted for inflation to $852 million). While the community is resilient and has rebuilt much that the fire consumed, a scar remains for many who went through the crisis more than two decades ago.

—Written by Laguna Beach Magazine Staff

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