Laguna Fire

Coordinates: 32°46′57.56″N 116°42′32.89″W / 32.7826556°N 116.7091361°W / 32.7826556; -116.7091361
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Laguna Fire
LocationLaguna Mountains,
San Diego County,
California, U.S.
Coordinates32°46′57.56″N 116°42′32.89″W / 32.7826556°N 116.7091361°W / 32.7826556; -116.7091361
Cost$234 million (1970 USD)[2]
Date(s)September 22, 1970 (1970-09-22) — October 4, 1970 (1970-10-04)
Burned area175,425 acres (710 km2)
CauseDowned powerlines
Buildings destroyed382
Deaths16 civilians[2]
Non-fatal injuriesUnknown

The Laguna Fire, previously known as the Kitchen Creek Fire and the Boulder Oaks Fire, was a 175,425-acre wildfire that burned from September 22 to October 4, 1970, in the Laguna Mountains and East County region of San Diego County in Southern California.[3]

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 to October 4, 1970. The Laguna Fire of 1970 caused at least $234 million (1970 USD) in damages,[2] including $5.6 million of damage to residential property.[4]


The Laguna fire was started by downed power lines during Santa Ana winds in the Kitchen Creek area of the Laguna Mountains on the morning of September 26, 1970. In only 24 hours, it burned westward about 30 miles (48 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 (709.92 km2) and 382 homes, killing 16 people, before it was contained on October 4, 1970.[2]

The Laguna Fire was surpassed as the third-largest fire in California history by the 280,278-acre (1,134.24 km2) Cedar Fire in October 2003. It was surpassed as the fourth-largest by the 197,990-acre (801.2 km2) Witch Creek Fire in October 2007.

Aerial firefighting issue[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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 in 2013 to fight the Lytle Fire, when other aircraft were grounded.[citation needed] 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[edit]

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.[5]

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 fires from the sky, during a Santa Ana wind event.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Top 20 Largest California Wildfires" (PDF). CAL FIRE. September 10, 2020. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 26, 2020. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e Jeff Alderdice (July 1, 2013). "Wildland Firefighting: Laguna Fire of 1970". Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  3. ^ Gabbert, Bill (September 26, 2009). "Laguna fire, September 26, 1970". Wildfire Today. Retrieved August 24, 2015.
  4. ^ Girard W. Anear (October 9, 1987). "Disastrous Laguna Fire of '70 Recalled" (PDF). The San Diego Union. Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  5. ^ MAFFS system description, U.S. Forest Service web site Archived July 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]