Heartbroken Laguna Niguel residents survey damage to their multi-million dollar mansions that have been reduced to rubble by California wildfire

  • Before and after photos reveal just how devastating the California wildfire was Wednesday night
  • Harrowing photos captured the reaction of residents as they returned to the charred remains of their homes 
  • Southern California Edison said in a statement that there was ‘circuit activity’ reported close to the time the fire is reported to have begun 
  • FEMA has now approved emergency funding to help local authorities battle the blaze

Devastated residents returned to what’s left of their multi-million dollar homes less than 24 hours after a wildfire ripped through the community of Laguna Niguel.  

The grim before and after photos reveal just how devastating a Wednesday night California wildfire was. At least 20 multi-million dollar mansions were reduced to rubble in just a matter of hours.

The blaze – dubbed the Coastal Fire – ignited near a water treatment facility in Aliso Woods Canyon – between Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach in Orange County – at 2.44pm and swept up steep terrain amid strong gales.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but on Wednesday night the local electricity company revealed that there was ‘circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire,’ as residents say power went out before the flames erupted.

Sassan Darian holds his cat Cyrus as he watches fire crews take down hot spots from his family’s fire damaged home in the aftermath of the Coastal Fire

Darian posted a video on Facebook showing his father watching the fire burn in the valley below his home, not long after the family was evacuated

Sassan Darian, 38, sat on a curb watching firefighters douse the remains of his father’s five-bedroom home and recounted how he, his daughter and his father fled as winds blasted flames toward them and embers fell on them and around them.

‘The sky, everything was orange. It looked like an inferno, so we just jumped in the car,’ he said. ‘My daughter said, ‘We’re on fire.’ There were sparks on her and we were patting ourselves down.’

Darian earlier posted videos on his Facebook page showing his father looking down as the fire began in the valley beneath his father’s home.  

The day after the fire, Darian posted a photo of his father’s burned down house. He wrote in the caption: ‘My old friends from back in the day – remember the crazy party I had here when we were youngins?’  

After being evacuated, Darian wrote on Facebook: ‘That was too close for comfort. I got live embers on my clothes when we evacuated.’

By 9 p.m. local time on May 11, the fire was spread across 200 acres resulting a shelter being set up for residents at the Crown Valley Community Center

Following the devastating effects of the fire, The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued smoke advisory through until Thursday

The exact cause of the blaze remains under investigation by the Orange County Fire Authority 

Zillow estimates that homes in the Laguna Niguel section can go for anywhere between $2.6 and $10 million

Members of the Torrance Fire Dept, from left, Brent Nunez, Michael Cotter and Rick Cathey protect the remains of a fire-damaged home in the aftermath of the Coastal Fire

A firefighter hoses down hot spots from a home in the aftermath of the Coastal Fire

Resident Abi Farsoni told NBC Los Angeles: ‘I saw flashes of fires just coming in my house and that’s the time I left with my wife. It’s horrible for residents. You don’t know if your home is still there. We don’t know. I have a lot of things. I didn’t have time to take them’

One resident Abi Forsoni described the scene as he was told evacuate, telling NBC Los Angeles: ‘I saw flashes of fires just coming in my house and that’s the time I left with my wife. It’s horrible for residents. You don’t know if your home is still there. We don’t know. I have a lot of things. I didn’t have time to take them.’

Fortunately for Forsoni his home was still standing. 

During the evacuation, resident Carson Williams told the NBA affiliate: ‘The entire street is chaotic, right now.’ 

‘It takes your breath away,’ Julianna Shapiro, 52, told the LA Times as she watched her community burn. ‘It’s just so hard to watch, but I can’t help not watch it. It’s our neighbors losing their homes. You feel so hopeless.’  

Residents talk on their cell phones as they walk past a fire-damaged property in the aftermath of the Coastal Fire

According to the Red Cross, 20 people were reportedly at the local shelter that had been set up

One local resident, Keith Morey, told ABC Los Angeles: ‘A lot of people get, take things, and they make them more than they are. This time will pass’

OCFA Assistant Fire Chief TJ McGovern told the media as his crews battled the fire: ‘We want to thank the citizens of the community with their rapid evacuations’

A total of 900 people were under evacuation orders due to the blaze

Smoke lingers at one of over 20 homes destroyed by the Coastal Fire 

Lynn and Keith Morey’s five-bedroom, four-and-a-half bathroom home with a two story library and office burned to the ground, less than one year after the couple lost their business to another fire.

They had left the home earlier in the morning, ABC7 reports, and they did not have time to grab any of their belongings. As a result, Lynn lost the only photos she had left of her sister, who had passed away four years earlier.

‘I’m more in shock than anything else,’ Lynn said Wednesday night.

A GoFundMe has now been set to help the couple rebuild. It was then shared on Facebook, by Lynne’s niece, Heather Balaban, who wrote: ‘My aunt Lynn and her husband Keith are the sweetest, most giving people I know.

‘Their mission in life is [to] help heal others,’ she explained, noting: ‘They invite people in their home to stay with them all the time.

‘Unfortunately, last night their home burnt to the ground, and they had no time to grab any of their belongings because they were evacuated in Laguna Niguel.’

As of 1.30pm EST on Thursday, the online fundraiser had raised $1,550 from seven donors to help the family.

A helicopter drops water as it assists firefighters battling the Coastal Fire on a hillside

The fire was aided in spreading by ocean winds which aided it in tearing through the dry brush

The Coastal Fire accelerated through the overgrown and dry shrubs on a mix of public and private lands in the slopes around Laguna Niguel

Winds continued to push the smoke southern and eastern long the Orange and Los Angeles County coasts

A long firefighter sprays water on a canyon hillside

A spokesperson for the Southern California Con Edison, David Song, said: ‘Our thoughts are with the community members whose homes have been damaged and those who were evacuated because of the Coastal fire, and we’re coordinating with fire agencies as needed to ensure firefighter safety.’

Song added: ‘Our top priority is the safety of customers, employees and communities, which is why we continue to enhance our wildfire mitigation efforts through grid hardening, situational awareness and enhanced operational practices.’ 

The blaze quickly reached the gated community at Coronado Pointe – where properties sell for between $1million and $10million – and the 30300 block of La Vue near the Summit Trail. 

It then ripped across the area and began looming over homes on Coronado Pointe. As the first homes began to burn, the embers were cast into neighboring homes, causing a devastating domino effect.

At least 20 homes in the exclusive enclave have already been engulfed by the fire and a further 100 were potentially in the wildfire’s path, Orange County Sheriff’s Capt. Virgil Asuncion said. Nine hundred homes remained under evacuation orders Thursday morning as flames continued to ignite.

A state of emergency has now been declared, as the Coastal Fire consumed nearly 200 acres and firefighters continued to fight the flames.  There is no word on how much of the fire has already been contained.

But at least one firefighter suffered a medical emergency as he battled the flames, officials announced on Thursday, and was brought to the hospital. He is in stable condition.

Meanwhile, photos show that one seven-bedroom, eight-bathroom home, which was listed for sale on Zillow for $9.89 million was completely gutted in the aftermath.

The seven-bedroom house at 5 Vista Court in Laguna Niguel, California was listed for sale on Zillow for nearly $10 million before it was completely gutted in the Coastal Fire Wednesday night

The home boasted seven-bedrooms and eight bathrooms, with a separate ‘children’s wing’ and another ‘wellness wing’ for a meditation room, gym, Pilates studio, sauna and steam room

The mansion also included its own pool in the backyard overlooking the California mansions on one side and Laguna Beach on the other

The Coastal Fire tore through the wealthy Coronado Pointe neighborhood on Wednesday night

Some homes continued to burn into Thursday morning, even after firefighters spent the night trying to quell the blaze

An aerial photo reveals just how devastating the fire was for the exclusive Laguna Niguel community

The 10,000 square foot home at 5 Vista Court in Laguna Niguel, California had boasted its own ‘children’s wing’ with a game room and study room, as well as a two-story bedroom and a ‘wellness wing to house your meditation room, gym and very own Pilates studio with sauna and steam room.’

It also included a separate outdoor pool overlooking the California mountains and Laguna Beach, as well as a four-car garage and a home theater.

Property records show that it is currently owned by a shell corporation, which purchased the luxurious mansion for $6.275 million in September 2020.

Firefighters were seen still trying to quell the flames at the mansion early Thursday morning. 

Another $6.6 million four-bedroom, seven bathroom mansion at 35 Coronado Pointe had also lost its roof entirely to flames as firefighters battled to save the walls and neighboring properties.

Explosions were heard coming from one home – believed to be the sound of ammunition detonating.

Multimillion dollar mansions went up in flames in California on Wednesday as a fast-moving brush fire engulfed luxury properties overlooking the Pacific

The fire ripped across the area and began looming over homes on Coronado Pointe. By 11pm the blaze had consumed around 200 acres with zero containment. Pictured: A house is reduced to rubble by the Coastal Fire in Laguna Niguel, California, on Wednesday

Houses are set on fire by the Coastal Fire in Laguna Niguel, California, on Wednesday

A house can be seen on fire in the background after a wind-driven wildfire broke out on Wednesday near Laguna Niguel

Smoke warnings remained in effect on Thursday as firefighters continued to battle the devastating blaze

It remains unclear exactly how many homes were destroyed as of Thursday morning, when assessment teams were entering the area. 

Smoke warnings remained in effect, and firefighters will likely remain on the scene through Friday, with Michelle Summers telling DailyMail.com her husband, who is a captain with the Ocean County Fire Association, ‘it’s the worst he’s ever been on and he’s got over 30 years.’

Laguna Beach has been home over the years to famous faces including Diane Keaton, Bette Midler screenwriter and producer Ryan Murphy, and Hollywood’s Golden Age star, Bette Davis.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has now approved federal funding to combat the growing fire.

‘This support will ensure that state and local authorities have the resources they need to continue addressing this emergency to save lives and homes in our community,’ Rep. Michelle Steel tweeted on Thursday.

California firefighters battle a home on fire in Laguna Niguel as the wildfire spread in Laguna Niguel

A building is entirely destroyed in the blaze, that ripped through the region, sparked just before 3pm

Firefighters douse the hillside with retardant sprays to try and put the fire out on Wednesday

A mansion and a car are seen destroyed by the raging wildfire in Laguna Niguel on Wednesday 

Smoke is seen rising from the Coastal Fire which ignited near a water treatment facility between Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach at 2.44pm local time

A fire truck is seen at the scene of the fire. Water-dropping helicopters are being used to try and fight the fire

Hundreds of people were forced to evacuate from their homes in the area of Coronado Pointe, Vista Courte, Pacific Island Drive, Via Las Rosa, and the Ranch Golf Course and Resort at around 4pm. Sheriff’s deputies ran between each house to tell people to leave.

But Kevin Kothlow said he decided to stay, as he has fire fighting experience. He told the LA Times how he walked down a trail and watched as the fire spread.

‘It literally just ran up the hill,’ he said. ‘I saw it hit the palm trees and as soon as I saw that I knew those houses were gone. You could see the embers blowing through the air.’

Among those evacuated were Cheryl Flohr and her husband Mark, whose 48,500-square-foot home is in Palmea, the neighborhood next to the badly damaged Coronado Pointe.

‘Fred Minegar, the mayor in 2020, immediately engaged and drove up and down the streets honking letting residents know,’ Cheryl Flohr told The Orange County Register.

‘They were so ready for us. I’m proud of my community and Laguna Niguel.’ Mark Flohr told the paper he knew there was a fire when he heard aircraft overhead and then saw smoke.

Then he drove over to a vacant area overlooking the steep canyons above The Ranch resort in Laguna Beach and saw the flames. Not long after, the couple got a knock on the door asking them to evacuate.

Using a list they created more than a decade ago, they carried out what was important to them – photo albums, hard drives, devices and charging cords plus irreplaceable personal items.

‘I brought a glass doll head my mother played with 100 years ago,’ said Cheryl.

Mark brought some old engineering tools and century-old books. The couple planned to stay with friends and family on Wednesday night.

‘We came here first because we wanted to be where the information was,’ Cheryl said.

A firefighter can be seen in front of a burning house after a wind-driven wildfire broke out in Laguna Niguel 

Smoke can be seen rising on Wednesday afternoon as helicopters are used to try and bring the fire under control

Sara Nuss-Galles also told DailyMail.com she and her husband, as well as their cats, are staying with friends a few miles from their home after they were forced to evacuate.

They were able to grab important papers, passports, medications, toiletries and clothes, she said, as they keep a list of items they would need in case of an evacuation on their refrigerator. 

Her house is now blocked off from traffic, she said, ‘but apparently apart from ash, smoke and embers, the street is OK.’

Most of the destruction, she said, was just about a quarter mile away from where she and her husband live, and they ‘often walk on the ridge where so many houses burned.

‘It’s a beautiful hike and outlook,’ Nuss-Galles said of the area, adding that the situation is ‘heartbreaking for the people [who] live there.’  

She said she is just grateful ‘for the amazing firefighters themselves staying and keeping us all safe.’

Residents near Moulton Meadows and Balbo Nyes were also advised to be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice, but the warning was lifted before 10pm as officials said there is no immediate threat to the area.

Laguna Beach high school had also been evacuated, and shelters have been set up in the area.

A $6.6 million home, 35 Coronado Pointe, is seen on fire as the blaze sweeps inland from the coast

The $6.6 million mansion at 35 Coronado Pointe was badly damaged by the fire

A firefighter walks past a mansion on fire caused by the Coastal Fire in Laguna Niguel on Wednesday night 

A firefighter is pictured dousing the flames on Wednesday night in Laguna Niguel, Orange County, California

A firefighter on Wednesday night works to put out the blaze in Laguna Niguel, above Laguna Beach

Laguna Niguel is home to 65,000 people, with the average home valued at $863,000 according to the most recent census

A house and a car are destroyed by the Coastal Fire in Laguna Niguel in California on Wednesday. Around 200 acres have been destroyed by the fire

Firefighters work to put out a house fire caused by the Coastal Fire in Laguna Niguel, California, on Wednesday

Multimillion dollar mansions went up in flames as the Coastal Fire ripped through on Wednesday afternoon

The affluent area is known for its hiking trails and spectacular views down to the Pacific Ocean

The fire spread quickly because wind had driven up embers into palm trees, attics and dense, dry brush on slopes and steep canyons that hadn’t burned for decades, said Britain Fennessy, chief of the Orange County Fire Authority.

Fennessy said climate change has made even small fires that once would have been easily contained into extreme threats to life and property throughout the West.

Fennessy told ABC 7 LA TV his team was trying to save as many homes as they could. ‘It’s all about defending the homes that have not already burned,’ Fennessy said from the scene.

‘The firefighters behind me are really putting on an aggressive fight.’ Fennessy said at a press conference on Wednesday night he expected winds to die down after sunset, which would help slow the spread.

He said there were no other major fires in Southern California, enabling firefighters from the area to concentrate their resources on Laguna Niguel.

The hilltop city of about 65,000 people is just inland from the coastal city of Laguna Beach about 50 miles south of Los Angeles.

Dry brush covers the surrounding hills and canyons, as California experiences historic drought. 

Hoses are dragged to the scene in an attempt to extinguish the flames engulfing multimillion dollar homes

Strong winds fanned the flames, which ripped up from the brush in the valley below

A firefighter puts his hands on his hips and dips his head at the sheer scale of the wildfire which has destroyed dozens of houses in Laguna Niguel on Wednesday 

Firefighters were trying on Wednesday night to contain the Coastal Fire and save as many homes as they could

Firefighters work to put out a structure burning during a wildfire in California on Wednesday

The front of a house set on fire by the Coastal Fire collapses in Laguna Niguel, California, on Wednesday

‘Unfortunately I think this is what we’re going to be experiencing over the next several weeks and years,’ said Fennessy. The vegetation is so dry it is not taking much for the fire to take off running and burn very quickly.’ 

Mike Garcia, the Laguna Beach fire chief, said: ‘It was a wind-driven fire. And since it started around 3pm on Wednesday it’s gone eastward.

‘It’s becoming a pretty big fire, burning several homes in the city of Laguna Niguel. I want to tell our community that the city of Laguna Beach is safe. We don’t expect any changes. 

‘But we want all of our residents to remain vigilant, be prepared, be aware.’ He said they would notify residents of any changes, but people should be prepared to ‘react quickly’.

Ground and air crews from the Orange County Fire Authority and Laguna Beach Fire Department were working to extinguish flames moving uphill through light and moderately dense vegetation.

Winds gusting up to 20 mph were fanning the flames, and relative humidity in the area was measured at 52 percent, said Mark Moede, from the National Weather Service.

‘Gusts were up to 25 mph when the fire started,’ Moede said at about 5pm. ‘It will stay breezy for the next hour or so, but should drop-off as the sun drops below the horizon.’

The last major fire in the area was the Emerald fire on February 24. The earlier fire grew to about 150 acres before it was extinguished. The first three months of 2022 have been the driest on record.  

The mansions lining the canyon sell for upwards of $1 million, with several reaching in excess of $6 million

Flames are seen engulfing a mansion as a result of the Coastal Fire in Laguna Niguel on Wednesday

Firefighter Nick Cerciello of Costa Mesa Fire Department battles back the flames

5 Firefighters look on as they work at putting down fires set alight by the Coastal Fire in Laguna Niguel on Wednesday

A firefighter walks down the street whilst talking on his radio as houses burn and collapse as a result of the wildfire

Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, responded on Tuesday by pledging to spend $100 million on a statewide advertising campaign to encourage water conservation. 

The campaign will include traditional radio and television spots while also paying people with large followings on social media to urge others to save water. 

He also promised to spend an $211 million to conserve more water in state government buildings by replacing plumbing fixtures and irrigation controls.

In Los Angeles – the second most populous city in the U.S. – Mayor Eric Garcetti said residents and businesses would have to reduce outdoor landscape watering from three days per week to two. 

Irrigation makes up 35 percent of the city’s water use.

Urban water use accounts for a relatively small percentage of California’s overall water use when compared to agriculture. But the state’s farmers have been suffering, too, as state and federal officials have reduced water allocations to zero in some places.

Demand for non-agriculture water is typically low in March, which comes near the end of the state’s rainy season. It can sometimes rain so much in March that it makes up for the rest of the year, a phenomenon officials have dubbed the ‘March miracle.’

But California got just 1 inch of precipitation in March while the temperatures were 3 degrees warmer than usual, further increasing water demand.

A series of April storms have improved things slightly since March. 

Still, most of the state’s reservoirs are well below their historic averages. 

The reservoirs depend on melted snow from the Sierra Nevada to replenish them for the dry summer months. But the statewide snowpack was at just 27 percent of its historic average as of April 1.

‘This is what we have. This is what we’re going to get. We can’t expect anything significant past this date,’ said Jeanine Jones, manager for interstate resources with the California Department of Water Resources.

State officials said 20 percent of the wells they monitor are reporting all-time low water levels, while nearly half of them have less than 10 percent of their historic averages. 

In some cases, the state is helping to haul water to small communities that don’t have access to it. State officials said they were assisting 687 households through a small community drought relief program.

Some larger communities were also in danger. Lindsay, a city of about 13,000 people in California’s Central Valley, was projected to run out of water on July 1. 

Federal officials approved an additional allocation for the city, which they now say will have enough water to last through February – provided they continue to conserve.

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