Wildfire fueled by exceedingly dry brush swept through the wealthy Southern California enclave of Laguna Niguel on Wednesday, destroying about 20 homes while scorching some 200 acres (80 hectares) and forcing evacuations, officials said.
No injuries were reported.
Though relatively small compared with some other major rural wildfires in western states, the blaze dubbed the Coastal Fire spread rapidly up the steep ridges of the suburban Orange County community with afternoon winds.
Video posted on social media showed multimillion-dollar homes consumed with orange flames and billows of black smoke, while neighboring homes appeared untouched.
Resident Tim Wheaton said there was only one egress point for many of the affected homes, creating traffic congestion as people tried to evacuate.
“People crying and hugging one another and cars full of I assume their most precious items from their homes,” Wheaton told Reuters in a Twitter chat, describing the scene.
An estimated 20 homes burned, though that number could rise, Brian Fennessy, fire chief of the Orange County Fire Authority, told a news conference.
Evacuations were ordered for about 100 homes, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said.
As California endures a historic drought exacerbated by climate change, brush that could normally resist fire is consumed with ever greater speed, Fennessy said.
“These fires are taking off and running on us. And they’re burning very quickly, not necessarily burning thousands and thousands of acres, but enough that it’s burning quickly and into the structures,” Fennessy said.
There were no other major fires in Southern California, enabling firefighters from the area to concentrate resources on Laguna Niguel, the chief said.
The hilltop city of about 65,000 people, many of whom enjoy spectacular ocean views, is just inland from the city of Laguna Beach, about 50 miles (80 km) south of Los Angeles.