Laguna Niguel residents return to ruins: ‘30 years’ worth of memories’ consumed by fire
Lynn Morey stood in disbelief Thursday outside the home that she and her husband have rented for nearly a decade.
The once luxurious five-bedroom house with sweeping views of the Saddleback Mountains had been completely engulfed by flames a day earlier. The frame was still standing, but the charred rubble inside signaled that everything had been lost.
“Well, almost everything,” the 56-year-old said as she held up a silver frame that contained a photograph from her wedding. The photograph was taken as Morey and her husband, Keith, stood on a hillside overlooking the ocean in 2017 and exchanged vows.
Firefighters had grabbed the picture from its place in their living room and an Apple computer before the fire consumed their home. She had been out running errands Wednesday afternoon and couldn’t get back before the fire tore through.
Images of a fire fueled by intense ocean winds that barreled into a gated community overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Laguna Niguel.
She clutched the photograph — a memory of one of her happiest days — as she took in the devastation in front of her.
“This brought some sunshine to my heart today,” she said.
Smoke hung in the air and ash rained down as firefighters sprayed her neighbors’ homes. Fire engines lined the streets as residents returned to the gated Coronado Pointe community, many wondering if their homes had been spared and questioning how the fire had overtaken the neighborhood so quickly.
The Coastal fire broke out Wednesday afternoon in a coastal canyon near the Pacific Ocean in an upscale section of south Orange County. Hundreds of residents fled as the flames swept in.
At least 20 homes were destroyed.
Authorities on Thursday were trying to determine the cause. The probe is still in its early stages, but Southern California Edison issued an initial report to state regulators saying that “our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire.”
The fire was so intense that it blackened the palm tree leaves that hung above several of the destroyed homes. Many of the homes’ facades were still intact — an indication that they had burned from the inside out. Shutters that once framed windows overlooking the wide street were charred.
A Porsche that had been left in the driveway outside one home was burned so badly it was nearly unrecognizable.
Water ran down the street as firefighters sprayed the still smoldering homes. It’s not clear when residents will be permitted to sift through the wreckage for belongings. Fire officials are concerned about the structural integrity of the homes, neighbors said.
As firefighters battled to save homes in the Coronado Pointe neighborhood, fleeing residents wondered whether theirs had survived.
Sandy Vogel stood outside the remnants of her home of three decades holding a wood bird house that her son had just plucked off a tree. The 20-year-old birdhouse was one of the few items she has left from her home.
As the flames approached Wednesday, she fled the house, grabbing some jewelry, documents and the five family photos that lined their fireplace mantle. She regrets not grabbing her wedding album, but there just wasn’t time, she said. Authorities were yelling for them to evacuate. Embers rained down and burned her sweater as she left.
“We didn’t think our house was going to burn, but the winds were so strong yesterday that once the fire came up the hill there was no stopping it,” Vogel said. “We didn’t know the house had burned until we saw it on the news.”
Residents describe what they saw and experienced as fire consumed a Laguna Niguel community.
Vogel and her husband purchased the home just after it had been built in the early 1990s, drawn to the large lots and the ocean views. As she surveyed the damage, she recalled all the memories they’d made in the house — baby showers, engagement parties and weekends spent with their two children in the pool in their backyard. The home’s contents continued smoldering as she thought back.
“It’s 30 years’ worth of memories,” she said, her voice catching with emotion. “We’ll rebuild and we’ll see if we want to stay here. Maybe it’ll be too hard.”
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