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From the Archives: For Laguna residents, it's a time for prayer, waiting

October 24, 2013|By Eric Lichtblau and Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times staff writers
  • Two solid wood doors that withstood the flames are all that was left from a home on Tahiti Avenue after the 1993 Laguna Beach firestorm.
Two solid wood doors that withstood the flames are all… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Editor's Note: The following article was published in the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 28, 1993.

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LAGUNA BEACH — As nightfall revealed an eerie ring of red flames above this seaside gem, residents salvaged wedding albums and family mementos and evacuated their homes in prayer.

From the sea to the hills in and around this fabled beach city, residents watched in helpless awe Wednesday as the worst fire in memory threatened to destroy a place of natural beauty and man-made riches that has long prided itself as Orange County's crown jewel.

A disbelieving Laguna Beach Mayor Lida Lenney watched a spreading wall of flame in late afternoon. "The fire is moving so quickly, I don't even know whether the City Hall is being hit or not. I just got back into town from Los Angeles and the traffic out of town is endless."

The fire showed no discernment for economics, hitting million-dollar mansions and trailer homes alike, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people around the area.

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Local hotels offered free or discounted rooms to those thrown out by the fire, but many residents were intent on remaining at police blockades to try to see if their homes had survived.

Fire officials could not provide many details late Wednesday about the extent of damage, certain to total in the tens of millions. But the seemingly endless stream of vehicles heading south away from the city — many packed with whatever valuables people could manage to throw in their cars — served as testimony to the viciousness of the blaze.

Lois Aldrin, wife of moon-walking astronaut Buzz Aldrin, gathered a few historic mementos from the family home before retreating ahead of the flames. It was not immediately clear if the Aldrin home was lost in the fire, but she said she feared for the area nonetheless.

"I just hope this fabulous residential area — it is so wonderful — can recover from this," she said.

An enclave surrounded by water and scenic cliffs, Laguna Beach has long been known for its festive beachfront and the artists' community established there.

In recent years, it has also become a focal point for the environmental movement and for gay rights activists in Orange County. The city was one of the first in the nation to adopt a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, and former Mayor Robert F. Gentry is one of the first openly gay politicians to be elected in the area.

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