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Utility probes cause of California fire that burned mansions

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. (AP) — Southern California Edison has told state utility regulators that unspecified electrical “circuit activity” happened at about the time that a wildfire erupted near the wealthy coastal city of Laguna Niguel and burned at least 20 homes, including mansions.

Plumes of smoke rose from the gutted ruins of the burned homes on Thursday but others nearby appeared untouched by Wednesday’s fire.

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.”

The Coastal Fire was reported Wednesday afternoon in a canyon between Laguna Niguel and the neighboring city of Laguna Beach, Orange County Fire Authority Assistant Chief T.J. McGovern told reporters. SoCal Edison made the report about the circuit activity Wednesday evening.

The fire burned uphill toward luxury homes lining ridges with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. The National Weather Service reported winds on the coast ranged from 34 mph to 38 mph (55-61 kph) between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. while the fire was raging.

The fire’s cause was under investigation and damage inspections were still ongoing on Thursday, McGovern said.

Southern California Edison said the company made the notification to the California Public Utilities Commission “out of an abundance of caution” because the incident may meet reporting requirements.

“Our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire. Our investigation is ongoing,” the utility said.

Various utilities’ electrical equipment has repeatedly been linked to the ignition of disastrous California wildfires, especially during windy weather.

The state Public Utilities Commission last year approved a settlement placing of more than half a billion dollars in fines and penalties for Southern California Edison for its role in five wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

The Coastal Fire was estimated to have burned 200 acres (81 hectares), McGovern said. There was no information immediately available about how much of the fire’s perimeter had been contained.

About 900 homes remained under evacuation orders on Thursday, said sheriff’s Capt. Virgil Asuncion, chief of police services for Laguna Niguel.

One firefighter was taken to a hospital for evaluation of an unspecified injury.

___

Antczak reported from Los Angeles.

By MARCIO SANCHEZ and JOHN ANTCZAK

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