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Orange County

Fire in Laguna Burns 80 Acres

June 27, 2002|MIKE ANTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A brush fire that blackened 80 acres in Laguna Canyon on Wednesday was caused by a bulldozer clearing weeds as a fire-prevention measure, fire officials said.

"It's very ironic--that's exactly why they were clearing it," said Capt. Stephen Miller of the Orange County Fire Authority.

The location was not far from where an arsonist set a wildfire in 1993 that destroyed hundreds of homes.

The driver, who was not identified, tried to put out the fire by dumping dirt on the blaze with the bulldozer. But 10- to 15-mph winds quickly pushed the flames into Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. The bulldozer apparently had clipped a rock, which caused a spark and started the fire about 1 p.m.

"He's very upset," Miller said.

About 100 firefighters and water-dropping helicopters had the blaze 90% contained by 5 p.m. Fire crews were expected to remain at the scene throughout the night. The southbound Laguna Freeway connector was closed at the San Diego Freeway, Miller said.

No injuries were reported, and no residents were evacuated. Still, the blaze frayed nerves in the canyon, where a devastating 1993 fire burned 450 homes and caused more than $500 million damage.

"Every time I hear an ambulance siren on the road, I look out the window," said Shelley Evans, an artist whose studio is across the road from Wednesday's fire. "We're all on alert."

Miller said they should be. Orange County, like much of the West, is tinder-dry, and most of the fire season lies ahead.

So far this year, more than 5,000 acres have burned in Orange County wildfires, Miller said.

*

Times staff writer Christine Hanley contributed to this report.

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