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Southern California fire chases residents from upscale neighborhood

Southern California fire chases residents from upscale neighborhood
Map showing the impact area and evacuation zones of the Laguna Beach wildfire. Photo courtesy of the Orange County Sheriff's Department

May 12 (UPI) -- A southern California wildfire spread quickly in an upscale Orange County community Wednesday, destroying at least 20 homes and forcing many in the Laguna Beach area to evacuate, officials said.

The fire had burned up to 199 acres as of Thursday morning with zero containment. Orange County Fire Capt. Sean Doran said the blaze burned through Aliso Wood Canyon between Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach.

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"What we experienced was a fire, wind-driven, down a relatively level flat terrain, until it hit the side of that slope," the authority's Chief Brian Fennessy said, according to KCBS-TV. "And fire is always going to run uphill faster, wind or no wind. But when you have that strong a wind blowing that fire uphill.

"And if you're familiar with that area, it is extremely steep, extremely thick vegetation that has not burned in probably decades. Once it's got ahold, and started up that hill, I think we all saw that, as soon as I got to my car at headquarters I could see that tremendous smoke column, and we knew that we had a significant fire."

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Southern California Edison said it sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission to inform them of "circuit activity" around the time the fire was reported on Wednesday afternoon but no determination has been made on what ignited the blaze, according to KABC-TV.

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Fire crews employed water-dropping aircraft in Aliso Woods Canyon, where the fire was fueled by thick brush that allowed it to climb the canyon wall into the neighborhoods.

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