'People were coming out of their houses, which were on fire...'

Laguna Beach fire officials remember Oct. 27, 1993, when high winds and low humidity brought the ultimate in frightening scenarios.

October 24, 2013|By Bryce Alderton
  • Two homes burn out of control after being pre-heated by Santa Ana winds on Londonderry Road in Emerald Bay on Oct. 27, 1993.
Two homes burn out of control after being pre-heated by… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Laguna Beach fire Capt. Scott Jennie described Oct. 27, 1993, in Laguna Beach as "chaos" with parts of the city "looking like a bomb had gone off."

Jennie, a paramedic, and department colleague Capt. Gary Ganger were on duty that October day, when Laguna Beach endured a firestorm for the ages.

Nearly 20 years later, Jennie and Ganger are still able to recount details of the battle to control the blaze that took such a toll on the city.

The morning began with howling winds and fires already burning in other parts of Orange County, including Anaheim Hills, said Ganger, who had been with the department for seven years at that point.

Jennie recalled winds of 40 to 50 mph and low humidity, conditions ripe for trouble, and residents began calling the department to report downed electrical wires and tree branches.


"We got a call that there was a brush fire starting in [Laguna Canyon]," said Jennie, who began with Laguna in 1990. "We were the third or fourth resource on scene and the fire raced by us. The wind conditions were extreme."

Some weather stations in Laguna clocked winds at 92 mph, according to the Orange County Fire Department's report to the county board of supervisors titled, "Orange County Firestorm 1993."

OCFD dispatch had received five 911 calls by about 11:50 a.m. regarding a fire along Laguna Canyon Road. The fire began on unincorporated county land and quickly moved west toward Laguna Beach.

Firefighters from OCFD, now the Orange County Fire Authority, were first on scene and were soon followed by Laguna Beach fire personnel.

"We figured something might happen with the winds," Ganger said. "I have not seen winds that strong here for that duration since then.

"If you can't knock it down, then you go into defense mode. We thought the fire was going in Emerald Bay, which it was initially. From there it started to spread to Laguna. You try to do what you can to defend the properties. If you can't catch a wildland or vegetation fire in the initial stages, then you have to steer it and build fuel breaks."

Residents quickly tried to get out of the city, Jennie said.

"At one point, all four lanes on Coast Highway headed south toward Dana Point," Jennie said. "There was a lot of panic. People were coming out of their houses, which were on fire, in Emerald Bay. It was definitely chaos."

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