The Laguna Fire, previously known as the Kitchen Creek Fire and the Boulder Oaks Fire, occurred in 1970 in eastern San Diego County, California of Southern California. It was the third largest wildfire in the history of California at that time, after the Santiago Canyon Fire of 1889 and the Matilija Fire of 1932. It was one of many wildfires in a massive conflagration that spanned across the state from September 22—October 4, 1970.
The Laguna fire was started by downed power lines during Santa Ana winds in the Kitchen Creek area of the Laguna Mountains in eastern San Diego County on the morning of September 26, 1970. In only 24 hours it burned westward about 30 miles (50 km) to the outskirts of El Cajon and Spring Valley. The fire devastated the communities of Harbison Canyon and Crest. In the end the fire burned 175,425 acres (710 km²) and 382 homes killing eight people.
The Laguna Fire was surpassed as the third largest fire in California history by the 280,278 acre (1,134 km²) Cedar Fire in October 2003. It was surpassed as the fourth largest by the 197,990 acre (801 km²) Witch Creek Fire in October 2007.
Aerial firefighting issue
At a time when high Santa Ana winds grounded other firefighting aircraft, a representative of Canadair brought a CL-215 to southern California to demonstrate its capabilities in aerial firefighting. He was turned away by firefighting officials. Nevertheless, while other firefighting aircraft were unable to fly safely he operated his "Super Scooper" out of El Capitan Reservoir and dropped water on the Laguna Fire wherever he saw fit.
The firefighting officials were unimpressed, and such aircraft were not used again in southern California to fight fires until the San Bernardino National Forest used one several years ago to fight the Lytle Fire when other aircraft were grounded. With the exception of two CL-415s leased by Los Angeles County during the fire season, the CL-215 and CL-415 are rarely used.
Wildfire suppression changes
In the wake of the fire, some wildfire suppression policies were changed. Congress directed the establishment of the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) which would allow military transport aircraft to be able to respond to wildfires if the commercial air tankers are unavailable or committed elsewhere.
Also note that retardant is generally ineffective when dropped from air where winds are blowing down a hill (foehn wind event) from 45-70 mph. The retardant gets intermixed with the wind and is dispersed, thus it never reaches its intended target. This makes southern California unique when fighting fire from the sky during a Santa Ana wind event.
- The short film Countdown to calamity (1971) is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]