Firebomb waiting to happen?

Clearly we have a beautiful town and especially so with the “colorfication” and greening from this year’s rains. But, although I never have been there, I am quite confident that Paradise, Calif. was similarly spectacular until 2018. Then there was the destruction to friends in Malibu. Of course, Laguna Beach had a very similar horrific occasion in 1993 and we were extremely lucky that the wind died in that afternoon or we could have experienced a more extreme catastrophe (not downplaying Laguna’s in any event), as horrendous as ours was. In all instances, fire driven miles in a short time: here, from almost the 405 to Emerald Bay in hours.

Some similarities are the congestion/choke points in escape routes, especially from the hillsides, and generally, we only have three ways out of town for full evacuation. The entire town is covered in arboreal splendor, each of which are potential fire lanterns. The greenery this year, while beautiful now, is set to rapidly become totally combustible in mere weeks. While it seems the dangers are known by virtue of the crews cutting back brush from the roadsides in Laguna Canyon (Caltrans?) and Park Ave/Arroyo, these crews have not made the smallest dent beyond a few feet back from the road edges and the brush is higher than a basketball rim just beyond this limited cutting/trimming! (Read the recent news articles on the invasive, non-native mustard seed plants.) And, although crews have been consistently at their work, for example, look at the size and density of the brush on the other side of the fences in Laguna Canyon’s greenspace/parkland. And, I do not believe fire respects barbed wire boundaries!

Just recall what had to be done to put down the “small” fires apparently caused by utility lines in Laguna Canyon twice in the last few years with firebomb planes and the rapid growth/spread of the flames in Aliso Creek/below Soka University less than one year ago and the near catastrophe then with the rapid response and assistance from all neighboring communities! And, there were no Santa Ana winds and we had experienced substantial drought with limited brush growth present for years in these instances.

What now? We have the extreme brush, anticipated inevitable dry hot months, extreme weather doubled by climate change, more Santa Ana wind events probable, more people in backcountry, no one set to reduce the brush in the greenspace/parklands, unknown use/increase in goatherds with apparently limiting depth protocols to protect the overly abundant brush (most of which is non-native), more congestion on our escape routes with more residents, traffic backed up on Laguna Canyon and PCH at all hours of all days all year, more and larger trees throughout town than in ‘93, same size local roads with more residents throughout town, a few more water tanks of what additional value, Caltrans and utility companies doing absolutely nothing to reduce the danger and their exposure to the increased fire dangers in the Canyon (to hell with us Lagunatics who seemingly don’t have representatives that squeak enough), the same size fire department, same assisting neighbors, more wildfires throughout state, more pressure on limited assisting agencies/resources – the sky is the limit on “et cetera” negativism. 

A perfect negative storm brewing? Yelling in a crowded theater? Clearly, we don’t want another Paradise and we cannot depend on the lucky turn of nature when the winds died as in ‘93! A cloud of doom! Pessimistic? Think about it and what “we” are/can/will do about it. Oh, please do!

Byron Nelson

Laguna Beach